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D.B last won the day on March 21 2020

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  1. Oh my God, I seriously need to stop making these chapters so long!! Sorry again guys, but this one has a lot of (hopefully) good stuff in it, so hopefully enjoy. Same warnings surrounding discussion of self-harm and suicide, but there is hope, so please be careful and love yourselves and be safe. I hope I written this right... please remember also, that what I'm written is not a definite answer to dealing with mental health. And just in case, how Evie has negatively viewed her own mental health (particularly in regards to self-harm) doesn't reflect my own views on the matter. Chapter 20 Evie got out of the car and looked over to the caravan that she had been calling home for the past two weeks. Part of her wondered if she made the right move in not moving back to the house immediately, but she couldn’t bring herself to go back, at least not yet. At least not now. Not when she has so much more to figure out, about herself, about what she ought to do, about what could and couldn’t happen. Evie knew she couldn’t just keep everyone out, especially not after the last weekend, and now she realised leaving them with no definite answers doesn’t make the situation better, that she hurt them leaving. But would exposing them to all the pain she felt make anything better as well? What if it wears them down? What if they can’t deal with that on top of everything? She didn’t want to make things difficult- yet she feared that ship has already sailed, left the port, and plainly sank in a horrible shipwreck. It’s all your fault. She gripped the door handle in response to the mocking, ever-so arrogant tone of that inner voice, wishing she could get it to shut up. She tried to recall memories of Nadia talking to her, telling her how tempting it would be to give in to your inner demons, how she shouldn’t put herself down, memories of Zac telling her to remember her strengths- yet it was hard to bring them up to fight against that critic. The critic that sounded so taunting, yet so convincing at the same time, that reminded her she had no strengths, that she was just playing, acting like it was some stupid game to be played by kids. That any attempt to think otherwise was just an attempt to hide who she really was, and she needed to wake up and realise the truth. She didn’t want to hear it, didn’t want it to even exist, but she knew she had believed for a very long time that she needed it, because she was afraid that it was right. That was another reason why she didn’t move back in, because she was afraid that everyone was still safer without her. That, no matter how ridiculous anyone else would have thought so, her just being there could cause them all grave danger. For all she knew, looking at Jeannie who had gotten out on the other side of the car (who insisted on driving), they could have crashed on the way over here. The car could have swivelled out of control or a tree could have fallen and smashed them to bits. And it was because Jenny insisted on driving her home. Evie’s logical side- a side she was beginning to suspect had been largely ignored for some time now- that she couldn’t have caused such things to occur, but the fear and the preparation of guilt remained. She didn't want her friend to get hurt for her own sake. It reminded her of something Nadia said before she left her to Zac: You think what happened to Oscar and Hannah, to Denny, to a lot of people, was your fault. Because you would have to admit a very painful truth: that you do not control who lives or who dies. It is not something for any of us to decide. That powerlessness means that those deaths weren’t your fault… even if to your eyes, that powerlessness equals guilt all the same. Nadia had hit a nerve there, because Evie knew that she could have tried and done something to stop it from happening, that that made her just as guilty even if her theory of causing events to transpire was incorrect. Especially when it was her own family, especially when it was Oscar… And if she couldn’t do anything when it mattered the most, what chance did she have of doing it right for any other time when it mattered? Nadia and Zac talked about second chances, about forgiving herself, how no one should nor would hold it against her for living her life again and doing right for the memories of Oscar and Hannah, and such talk ought to inspire hope within a person, but Evie didn’t know if she could really hope for anything again. Yet how could she not, after receiving Zac’s comfort the other day, feeling like one of the best things in the world? Besides, returning to her previous fear, she was the reason Jeannie was driving in the first place and… yet Evie reminded herself that she had insisted on driving herself home, only for Jeannie to insist on driving her, that Evie was too exhausted to do so. And Evie knew the other girl was right, she was so exhausted that it was a miracle that she had even got out of the hospital bed without collapsing back onto it immediately, yet Evie didn’t fail to notice the sharp look of anxiety on her friend’s face at the idea of letting her drive off alone. Jenny doesn’t even try and play it off like she didn’t think Evie wouldn’t actually make it back try in her state and Evie strangely appreciates the honesty, even if it made her rankle. Yet, she fears that they wouldn’t let her out of their sight anymore. It made her feel like they couldn’t trust her, and… well, maybe they were right to do so, but it didn’t make her feel anymore easy about the idea. Then Zac’s words floated back into her head when she brought it up without even realising what she said: It’ll never be like that. This isn’t you needing constant supervision like you’re a child, it’s about us supporting you, and you letting us support you. It was a nice thing to say- too nice for Evie to 100% believe it. Yet the honest look in Zac’s face made her think about it, and realising she might as well give it a chance. He was the one who insisted alongside Jeannie that she take Evie home when Evie turned down Zac's offer. She knew she had hurt them leaving, she didn’t want to do it again. That was why she promised to go back, because she didn’t want to hurt them- and she realise she wanted to reconnect with them once more. She looked over to Jeannie, who was looking over the caravan park and nodding with a thoughtful look over her face. “Looks nice. Wouldn’t mind living here myself.” Evie snorted tiredly. “Yeah, if you don’t mind teenagers racking up their music in the middle of the night.” “Well, no place is perfect,” Jeannie snarked back playfully. “At least you actually have some time to yourself,” she added, her playful smile remaining effortlessly onto her face, but the gleam in her eyes turning into a more thoughtful gaze, as if trying to gauge Evie’s reaction and try and figure her out. Well, Jeannie can join the que (a que that Evie’s definitely at the front of). “Listen, Jeannie, thanks,” Evie told her as she walked around to her end, trying to pretend she didn’t notice the blonde’s searching gaze. “I’m sorry I had to drag you down here, after what happened, it wasn’t your problem to deal with-” “I’m glad it was my problem,” Jeannie replied quickly, her cheery attitude not shrinking even for a second as she reached out with a hand. When Evie made no move to flinch away or any other sign that she’d be uncomfortable, Jeannie reached up and began softly playing with the brunette’s hair. “I am your friend, Mason’s your friend, that Matt guy is your friend, and you have some serious stuff going on, and a friend doesn’t stand by and let that stuff happen to you, whether you like it or not.” She continued combing through Evie’s unwashed, thick black hair with her fingers, and it touched her heart to see the shorter girl subconsciously lean into Jeannie’s touch, her brown eyes softening at the touch and her tense legs and shoulders sagging. There was nothing forced or reluctance in Evie’s actions. Jeannie understood it, Evie had been keeping herself away from other people’s touch for so long that any contact at this point would be like all of her Christmases at once. But as Jeannie reached around to bring her arm around her shoulder to bring Evie into a hug, Evie’s eyes suddenly widened and she pushed herself away before Jeannie could get her arm around the girl. They both stood there, looking awkwardly at the ground between them. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have-” “No, it was fine, you were fine,” Evie reassured her, her voice trying not to quiver. She couldn’t lie, not to Jeannie nor herself, the other girl’s perfectly cut nails weaving their way through her hair felt so comforting and so nice it almost felt like Evie was drifting off into some nice dream, something she hasn’t experienced in a very long time. It made her feel safe and warm to have that kind of human contact again that is gentle and caring- and yet that impulse telling her to fight or flee made her shrink away, accompanied by the reminder that she didn’t deserve to feel safe or warm, and it was all her fault, and anything bad that happened to the people she cared about was going to be her fault- That scratching, irritable sensation returned to her senses again, threatening to overwhelm her and made her yearn for the scissors to cut herself again. That urge remained just as strong as it had been before, but now the fear that settled with it, the fear of that numbing sensation that would always happen after she cut herself, was intensified. She couldn’t convince herself entirely that she didn’t deserve the pain, just one talk with Zac wasn’t going to make things change, no matter how tempting it was for her to remain in that comfort forever. Evie was still less sure that cutting herself was something she could keep doing, however. She didn’t think about it because she didn’t care about stopping, she had went from trying to make things okay to punishing herself and caring less about what happened to herself. The last few days had done something dangerous to the entire situation, though. It made her think about actually living a life outside of just being alive, about the idea of regaining hope and redemption, about taking responsibility and looking after herself. What Nadia was saying and what Zac was saying… it sparked something inside her, something that made her think that despite all, she could still do good. It would have excited her if it didn’t also fill her with dread of messing it up, of it being undeserved without Oscar and Hannah and Denny and… As if it was a reverse effect, the idea of getting that hope also made that voice urging her to hurt herself even louder, which brought all of her guilt, self-hatred and anger up to the force and made her drive away because she didn’t deserve Jeannie’s comfort. “I just… I don’t know if I can let myself… to give into to that…” Evie shrugs, not really knowing how to explain the discomfort of getting to close. “We’re not trying to make you feel worse, it’s okay to want those things,” Jeannie reassured her, feeling a bit disconcerted at how much a person, especially a friend, could try and keep themselves from something they clearly wanted from what she read. “I know you’re not,” Evie snapped, too tired to regret it immediately. That wasn’t it, she knew they weren’t trying to hurt her, and it did annoy her that that thought came up. “I don’t think that you’re trying to make me feel worse, I’m… I’m not that messed up…” She had thought (or feared) that they were fed up with her and were just pretending, but she didn’t think they were trying to hurt her. She didn’t lose all her trust… how much of it did she lose, though? “It’s just… What if I don’t deserve those things? What if I shouldn’t have those things? It’ll just end up being a big waste of time and… I don’t know if I can deal with that,” Evie finished rambling and then looked up desperately to her friend, wondering if she made any bit of sense to her. Jeannie remained silent for a while, trying to think of what to say, and she came up with was: “You’ve had a lot of time to overthink about that, haven’t you?” Evie considered the question, and nodded resignedly. “I guess… it’s all I can think about. Does that make me crazy?”, she asked in a lower voice. “It doesn’t,” Jeannie reassured her. It was only now she was remembering how Evie suffered from that panic attack she had that same weekend. Her medical learning made Jeannie aware that her body was still going to react in certain ways that other people wouldn’t. It isn’t something she could blame Evie for, it was just how the body reacted. “And how you struggle with what appears to be normal isn’t crazy either. No one should make you feel uncomfortable in your own space.” “It’s stupid, that’s what it is, it's me being a complete idiot.” Even though she said that, Evie didn't believe it as much as she used to, thinking of Nadia’s own voice, talking about the panic attacks, how normal it was, how it wasn’t something to be ashamed of. Yet, despite knowing that, hearing it come from an expert, it was a different voice that came out of her mouth, the usual voice. “It’s pathetic, it’s nothing worth listening about, it’s nothing for you to be concerned…” “Then why do you look like you’re about to start crying?” Jeannie asked her seriously, yet gentle at the same time, taking one step forward to get Evie to look closer at her. “Evie, you’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. Frankly I’d be worried if you didn’t have this stuff going on. It’s how your body reacts to all of it and your mind trying to sort your way through it. But say it for what it is, don’t try and downplay it. This is a reactionary disorder to a traumatic experience, and I think you know that.” Evie shrugged helplessly. “I guess… but that doesn’t mean I want it to be your problem or anyone’s problem, it was just mine, and I… I convinced myself that because of that it wasn’t important. Yet… it affects everything, and I didn’t want it to, but it still did, and… if it was just me that would be fine, but...” It wasn’t. And that was why she pushed them all away. If she fell… then at least she would fall alone. “Did you think that pushing yourself away going to solve anything?” Jeannie could only look at her friend to see how well that was going. It reminded her of what Tori, Mason’s sister, told her as she escorted Evie out of the hospital- Evie was severely malnourished and she needed something to eat. Jeannie had to look out for that, as well as making sure Evie didn’t eat too much. “I didn’t know,” Evie admitted defensively. “But I thought it was better than before. I never did that, I was always… open, but things only got worse…” But those two may not be connected, Nadia’s voice echoed in her ears. Evie shook her head, she still wasn’t convinced of that, and she didn’t want to be fooling herself or anyone else. “How could you be so understanding? I’m such a mess.” “It isn’t fine, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to leave you like this,” Jeannie replied, her usually light voice now containing distress and her expression looking more upset than ever, but she answered without a second of hesitation. “Just because it’s happening to you- well no, you just admitted that it is. Whether you realise it or not, it is important that it’s happening to you. Otherwise, I don’t think you’d be talking about it like that. I don’t know what’s bringing all this up, at least not all of it, but I want it to stop tormenting my friend like this. And that’s why I can’t let you keep doing this to yourself. Why your family isn’t going to let you keep doing this to yourself.” Evie sighed and looked up again at her friend, a wave of emotion passing through her eyes in turmoil. “And what if I end up just dragging you all down with me?” “Well, I don’t think that’s going to happen for a second. If we’re there we’re going to pull you back up. Because we want- no we need you. Hence, it’s our choice to stand by you, you can’t control our decisions. You’re stuck with us, whether you like it or not.” Evie both liked and didn’t like it at the same time, if that was such a thing. She loved that they were all so willing and nice to help her, but at the same time, she wasn’t worth it, and she can’t rid herself of the fear that her friends and family didn’t fully get how dangerous she was. She… realised she didn’t know if she can fully trust that instinct anymore. And it brought her back to the question that had been riddling in her mind for the last few days. Did she fear how they saw her? Did it matter so much to her? Was it okay that it did? “Why do I get the feeling that this isn’t the only thing that is bothering you?” “Because it’s not,” Evie admitted. There was so much more than just the traumatic disorder she has apparently obtained. There was the grief she hasn’t properly managed, the whole fiasco regarding Josh and how she actually felt about it. It wasn’t important, she didn’t think it was, yet she knew the question remained. And there was everyone else as well. How can she reconcile with them? Because she wanted to, but how can she decide what went right and what went wrong? How can she work it out with them? And what was the point with that urge remaining in her head, which meant one day she could give into it and never see them again? How could she still be around them knowing she was just holding something that big? How can she look them in the eye knowing she held back her guilt about Oscar and Hannah? “I… I just want it all to stop hurting,” she mumbled quietly, though not quietly enough for Jeannie not to hear her. She hesitated for a moment, not actually sure what she meant by that. Because yeah, all of the pain, the panic, the grief, even in her state, she couldn’t deny how all of it was so close to taking it’s toll, but the idea of suicide hasn’t left her, even after her talk with Zac. After so much time of it being on her mind, it can’t go away, the idea that they’d be better off without her. However, recent events had made her rethink that, that maybe she’d end up hurting them more if she did so. Jeannie didn’t know about her suicidal thoughts, Evie didn’t know if she could tell her. Even now her brain was scrambling to remember who did know: Zac, Nadia, and she had the slightest memory of saying I should be dead to Mason, without even realising he was even there to hear- Oh no, did Matt hear her? What must he have thought if he did? What could she possibly say to him? “I know,” Jeannie told her in a sombre voice. She didn’t realise how little her friend had begun to think about herself, how her eyes still looked blood-shot red and her limbs defeated and that hurt. This was the depression filtering into every bit of her words and actions. It broke Jeannie’s heart, just as it had when the news came in from the Bay of the explosion those months ago, when she realised that the cute, nice guy they called Oscar wasn’t going to be walking in that nervous walk he did onto campus anymore, or when their professor told the class that Maddy Osborne, a girl whom Jeannie had shared notes with almost every day, wasn’t able to be joining them for the rest of the semester. That then prompted her to crouch down next to Evie, just as an afterthought: “Give me your phone.” Evie looked over blurrily. “What?” “Your phone, give me your phone.” When Evie picked up her phone, unlocked it, and handed it over to the blonde, still in confusion, Jeannie quickly scrolled down the list of contacts until she found her name in it. “Okay, good. You still have my number. Now, listen to me now Evie, okay? If you ever feel like you’re getting a panic attack, or you feel like crap, you call me, or Matt, or Mason, or your uncle or aunt, or someone, and I will do my best to distract you or whatever it is you need. We can skip lectures for all I care.” Evie couldn’t help but snort at that. “You sure you want to put your medical career on hold?”. She knew how much becoming a doctor meant to Jeannie. “Well, I’ll be helping someone in need. Seems to be in line with my studies,” Jeannie said, her warm smile returning. As she stood back up, she looked around. “You think you’d be okay now, or…” She left the unspoken question in the air, leaving Evie to contemplate her answer. She was already considering telling Jeannie it was okay, she could leave her alone, she already did enough… but that was what she would have done before. Before when she felt the painful and frightening urges and fears and she didn’t know if isolating herself would do anything. The idea that she deserved the pain didn’t hold as much weight, anymore and she was only more frightened if what happened if she denied the company. She wouldn’t want to take up their time if they didn’t want to see her, but… if she accepted the possibility that they did, then shouldn’t she? She really wanted to, deep down, it would feel good, even if they didn’t talk, and if they wanted to as well… “Actually, could you please… if you want to, can we hang out in my caravan. I… I think I want the company.” Jeannie continued to smile brightly. “Then that is what we’ll do. Come on, kiddo.” “Kiddo?” Evie repeated incredulously, a small grin edging on the corners of her mouth. It was so small, so insignificant, yet it was the funniest thing she heard for a long time. “We’re the same age.” “I’m taller though,” Jeannie justified ridiculously, her smile just confirming how ridiculous the entire conversation, and also how much she enjoyed continuing it. “That has nothing to do with it!” Evie replied, a small chuckle escaping. The whole thing felt unreal, that she was doing something so normal again. It wasn’t so long that she thought she would be ending her own life, yet here she was, chuckling at a joke. Something that was so normal, yet so gratifying to do. So wonderful that she had the ability to be with a friend again. It was something she had believed for so long to be beyond her own reach, beyond the limit that she even deserved. Yet now, despite still doubting she deserved such a thing, how nice just doing these normal things again felt seemed to reduce her fear and hesitation. Then again, wasn’t normality an unknown stranger to her? “Thanks, y’know. For agreeing to do this and everything…” Jeannie smiled gently at her friend, a sadness entering her eyes with confusion as well. Did Evie really believe she had to thank Jeannie for being there? For just talking? Sure this was far from a walk in the park, but that is when friendship prevails, not easy or convenient, but when things where hard. She didn’t expect Evie to be experiencing such a lack of self-confidence, but it was connected to the panic attack she had, or Jeannie’s last name wasn’t Wood. “You never have to thank me for being here, Evie. I’d do this with no hesitation, and so would everyone else who cares for you. Just as long as it what you want as well.” “It is… it is, but…” Evie trailed off, not sure of how to describe it. “I just don’t know how to work with it, that’s all. How to do it right.” Jeannie shrugged, not sure how to answer that. She understood it, how to ask for things the right way, or when she really wants or doesn’t want something. The lines are blurrier than people would expect. It gave a harsh reminder of her own family life. Her parents had unusual beliefs as doomsday preppers, but Jeannie did her best to accommodate their beliefs in her life. However, she couldn’t deny that it had taken its toll on her. With her parents believing that the world was going to end at any second, they feared for her. For a lot of her youth she… she experienced a normal life, she attended school, she had friends, but even at a young age even she was able to see the fear in her parents eyes whenever she returned. So playdates and outside-school events were short and in between. She had been stuck in some limbo of being coddled and over-protected and living a normal life. While the idea of everything ending made her parents want to hide away in fear, it gave Jeannie a bright and bubbly personality that was finally able to shine in high school and college, gaining more freedom year by year. She loved her parents, she did, they never forced their lifestyle upon her- but she was left wondering a lot if she wouldn’t have missed out on so much if they didn’t give into that fear. “You okay?” Jeannie broke out of her trance by Evie looking at her inquisitively. Jeannie huffed a nervous laugh, embarrassed that she ended up thinking about it when she was supposed to be helping her friend. “Yeah, sorry. Just some stuff to think about-” “You want to talk about it?” Evie suggested immediately, then wincing when Jeannie looked away doubtfully. Evie hated that she couldn’t take a hint, and she feels awful because she should have realised that they must be having issues of their own to deal with, but… it was the reminder of when Zac talked to her about what he went through, and she knew, as painful as it was, she wanted to be confided with. She wanted to share comfort and help whenever she could. She realised if she couldn’t and shouldn’t shut herself away, then she could still try and be helpful, hopefully doing a better job of it. “Sorry, I should have realised… after me not wanting to talk about it, I don’t have much ground to ask that?” “It’s fine. I’m sorry, but it’s complicated stuff, I don’t want you to worry about it…” Jeannie bit her lip. It was hard enough to talk about her life with any of her friends, even Evie. The whole situation was pretty bizarre, even if she didn’t want to betray her parents’ confidence by talking about their fears with people who wouldn’t really get it. She didn’t get it, but at least she knew her parents weren’t crazy, which was how a lot of people would interpret as such. “It’s family stuff, nothing serious but… it make things complicated. I mean… would you want to talk about it… all of it, all at once?” “No, I don’t suppose I would. Everything’s a bit complicated isn’t it?” Evie said with a dry sigh, causing Jeannie to chuckle. “Yeah, who knew it would be so difficult to make things simple?”, she gestured widely and smiling as she did so. “Yeah. If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine. I don’t think I can talk about the stuff going on as well. But… maybe if we’re just both there with each other… maybe nothing has to be said.” Evie suggested hopefully. Of course, she knew she couldn’t hide this stuff anymore, she had to confront it, for good or bad, but that didn’t mean she had to bring it up. She didn’t think she’d be able to do so apart from a very few people. She liked Jeannie, but she wasn’t as close to her as she was with Matt or Maddy. Besides… just because she had to deal with this properly now, didn’t mean anyone else’s problems became suddenly unimportant. She didn’t want them to shoulder everything for her, but maybe if they wanted to help her shoulder the burden, then she could help them shoulder their own. It reminded her of something Matt had said to her… it was a two-way street, she can’t expect to help him without him trying to help her back. However, her mind dragged up the idea of suicide once again, but got her to consider something different- if she let them back in, if she tried to be a part of their lives again, if that was what they truly wanted… then it would be much difficult to give in to that urge. Jeannie looked over to her, her eyes brightening again and she nodded confidently. Both of them leaning up again, they walked away to the caravan together, both sharing soft smiles with one another. Jeannie reached over again, and after much consideration, Evie nodded. Jeannie reached out to her hair again and started softly playing with the strands near her ear again. It’s soothing affect remained and Evie appreciated a lot more than she’d like. Of course, the moment came to an end when Evie almost stumbled, and she had to put a hand on a bench to steady herself. Evie looked up to Jeannie’s concerned look. “Sorry, it’s just… I haven’t eaten in a while.” Zac gave her some food from the hospital, but it truly lived up to the legend of being awful hospital food. “I think I might still have some stuff in the fridge.” “Is it enough?” Jeannie asked pointedly. When Evie looked away, Jeannie had her answer. “Right. You remember what Dr Morgan said. Where’s a place where we can get decent food? If you want to just stay in the caravan, I can go get it…” “I…” Evie didn’t think that was what she wanted, to be left alone knowing that urge was in her head now. Before she wouldn’t have fought it, but now… then she saw Alf, in the distant with his back turned to them, and she decided she could talk to him. “Salt’s a restaurant near the beach. It’s above the surf club. Just look for a man named John Palmer and he’ll show you. I’ll got talk to him.” Jeannie looked over to where Alf was standing. “You know him?” Evie couldn’t help it; a knowing smile escaped her lips. “You couldn’t live in Summer Bay without knowing Alf Stewart.” Jeannie raised her eyebrows, but smiled and went on her way. Evie walked up to Mr Stewart. It was as if he could already tell she was coming over, as he turned around to her. “Evelyn… it’s good to have you back.” Evie nodded. “It’s… it’s good to be back, thank you Mr Stewart.” She hesitated, looking down and shuffled her foot, not sure of what to say. “The rent,” she realised with a start, remembering the money she had left as rent in the caravan. “I’d left the rent in the caravan, for you. It was for last week and-” “It’s alright, love. I collected it anyway. Zac told me you won’t be working this week, at least not until you’re back to your strength. It was more than needed for the week actually, so I left it there for you. At least you kept it ready before the end of the weekend.” “Yeah,” Evie said hesitantly, looking down again as if that would avoid Alf’s perceptive gaze. He always had that power, that ability to look deep into a person and tell what wasn’t being said. She didn’t know how she could say that she left the money there in advance because she didn’t plan to be back. She had left it there for him to find plus a little more because of how grateful she felt that Mr Stewart had housed their family for so long, but how exactly does she explain it, and why did she say it in the first place? That was one of the least intelligent things she could have said. “Just… wanted to say thank you in a way,” Evie explained in a hurry, giving into the desire to say all the things she wanted to say to her family. There was so much she wanted to say, apologies and appreciation and just how much she loved them. She had put it in the end of her letter (but she didn’t know whether or not Zac got that far), but writing such feelings weren’t enough. Talking about them wasn’t enough to give justice to the amount of love she felt, despite all the anger and pain, but she could try. “Thank you for giving me a caravan, and letting me stay, and taking us all in when Leah’s house burned down and… and by being you, who you are.” The words were clumsy and heavy coming out of her mouth, but Evie finally looked up into Alf’s stalwart, old eyes and hoped it was enough. Alf blinked for a second, as if confused, but thankfully it cleared away as he cleared his throat and nodded, a warm look in his eyes. “There’s no need to thank me. I know things were difficult, but it doesn’t change anything. I considered you all my family when I brought you in, and family looks after each other.” The words were genuine, Alf meant well, but all Evie could think about then was the smell of burning metal in this very park, the horrifying sensation of not being able to hear anything other than the blood pumping in her ears and a pale, lifeless hand escaping from a white sheet. “Evelyn, listen. I’m sure you want to go back to your place before your friend gets back, but before that, I feel like I owe you an apology.” Evie’s eyes furrowed in confusion, and something close to fear. “For what?” “For that night… when I thought you had been drinking…” Alf shook his head sadly. He had talked to Zac after he came back from the hospital, and he told Alf. Zac didn’t share the full story, in fact he barely told Alf anything other than that Evie hadn’t been drinking at all, but Alf could see it in Zac’s expression, that the actual truth was a lot worse than they ever expected it to be, and he had the good grace not to inquire any further. He felt ashamed for making assumptions like that, especially for a situation as serious as this. “I thought wrong, and Zac thought wrong and we’re sorry-” “It doesn’t matter,” Evie said quickly, not wanting to make a big deal out of this. It didn’t matter- though should it? She couldn’t help but wonder if she should have been more upset about it. Maybe drinking was a coping method for some people, but she kept herself away from it, mainly because she didn’t want to forget what she did. Maybe she ought to be more defensive about it, to regain confidence- But what did that have to do with confidence? Not when she was so uncertain about everything else going on with her life? Nadia has talked to her about regaining self-confidence, but what did that have to do with getting angry at her loved ones? Surely there could be a way around that? She made mistakes just as much as they did, she still believed her own were more severe. She would not hold it against them. “Just... it's done, I've forgotten about it. It’s not something worth bothering about.” “I didn’t recognise what it was, and if I had-” “I still would have denied it. Besides, I didn’t exactly go out of my way to prove you wrong. It just… it wasn’t worth arguing about. Compared to everything else… it didn’t matter. Doesn’t matter, not really.” Alf frowned deeply at her words, at how much she genuinely believed defending herself didn’t matter. The self-loathing in her voice was palpable, and it was dangerous. It had been haunting her for too long. “You miss him, don’t you?” It didn’t take a detective to figure out whom Alf meant. She felt horrible for talking about it, horrible for talking about it like it only affected her, but she did. She missed him so much everything hurt. “Everyday. I... I don’t know how I can even think about anything other than how… so unfair it was. He deserved… so much better. So much ahead of him, for him to do, and-” her voice cracked, “now he’s just gone.” Every word felt like a punch to the stomach. It had been two months yet it was still unbelievable. “You were a good sister, you did your best for him. Anyone with two eyes could see that.” “Doesn’t really say much. He’s still… he’s still dead, and I could do nothing,” Evie retorted, her voice a bitter voice. Now that urge screaming at her to cut got louder and louder and louder that Evie feared that it would become the only thing she could hear. Alf could get her point of view now. If she couldn’t protect her twin, the most important person in her life, then she wouldn’t see herself as capable of anything else. Alf has so much of his life filled with regrets to understand that when the task you set out from day one ultimately fails, whether your own fault or not, very little seems to matter. From what he’d seen, Evie had been juggling both at the same time, holding onto the people that did matter while withdrawing to keep them at arm’s length. He didn’t want to see the outcome of such a match, and he didn’t think she did as well. “Losing people suddenly changes all your perspectives, doesn’t it?” Evie nodded, not sure what else there was to say at that. It was impossible for her not to question everything about her life, her relationships, her family and friends. Why it only took Josh to be revealed as a killer for her to do so remained unclear. “It’s not so strange you know, to feel like you want to withdraw from everything, hide away from everything. I did the exact same thing when my wife died.” Evie looked up at him again with sorrow in her eyes. Part of her felt horrible for forgetting that other people have their own misery and loss as well, sad that they had to experience the pain she felt. Yet, the other part of her feels strangely honoured that they would want to share their own loss with her. It was what they wanted her to do, and the fact that they trusted her to share with stuff that was so personal to them… it felt horrible that they went through this in the first place, Leah and Alf’s losses and Zac’s horrifying experience, if Evie could do anything to help them through it, she would, but she also saw what they were trying to do, trying to give her hope that by sharing them with her, they were trying to be there for her, that they trusted her to share with them, to help them. It made her feel grateful and hopeful… but also more terrified that she would fail, that she couldn’t help them shoulder the burden. “Mr Stewart-” “Alf, please.” Evie sighed and started again. “Alf… I’m so sorry, it must have been awful… for you and Roo...” “Roo actually wasn’t here, she was in America,” Alf informed her, in a matter of fact way to hide the emotion growing on his face. “Besides, Martha was Roo’s mother. I married Alisa long after Martha passed on.” And maybe it was because Evie was so tired she reached the point that she was imagining things, but she could have sworn for a millisecond that there was a certain glean in Alf’s eye when he mentioned Martha’s name, as if there was something about his last sentence that wasn’t entirely true, but the glean disappeared as quickly as it came, and Evie was sure she imagined it and decided not to focus on it. Whatever it was, it had nothing to do with her. “But me and Alisa… we were getting out of a rough patch. We were starting a whole new chapter, and then… one moment she was there, right in front of me, bringing stuff into the house… and the next she had collapsed, right in front of me.” The memory threatened to come flashing back to him, and he had to keep his mind on the present or else having to face it again. Alf had made his peace with Alisa’s death a long time ago- yet making his peace with it doesn’t mean it doesn’t stop haunting him from time to time. He saw Evie’s face pinched with horror. He hadn’t told that story with the intention of making her feel worse, just trying to get her to understand the pain she felt was natural. “God… Alf I’m so sorry… in front of you…that’s awful…” It was a lot more than awful, couldn’t imagine how painful and horrible it must have been for Alf to have witnessed it but it was all Evie could manage to say. Alf nodded slowly. “It felt like the end for me… I withdrew from everything I knew and loved… I gave up even on the Baitshop… I even couldn’t be with my son without arguing with him…” Alf couldn’t help but look off somewhere, wondering where Duncan was now. It had been ages, years, since they’ve spoken. He wondered what his son had made of his life, whether or not he settled down and started a family. He wondered if Alisa would be proud of him. “It felt too much for me to be around anyone… no matter what I did, it didn’t help in the long run… it took time but I finally moved on… it doesn’t mean forgetting, it just means living.” “I couldn’t move on,” Evie admitted shamefully. “It never seemed right… I made so many mistakes and I… I didn’t know how to make things right… not least while ignoring things I did… or thought I did… I can’t tell the difference anymore. It seemed like a chance that I didn’t deserve, that Oscar or Hannah or… or Denny,” she looked back at Alf, and seeing the sadness in his eyes, both of them connecting through the loss of Denny. “…that I should just be left reminiscing in my own failures, on who should have… who should have been here but wasn’t. Everything I did, every argument or stupid decision I made… with them especially.” Evie tried not to shake at what she almost said who should have been here instead of me, but it was hard enough to tell Zac that, she didn’t want to worry anyone than she had to without hurting them by talking about suicide or anything like that. “When Denny first came to the Bay, I didn’t want to see her. I hated the idea of our dad being with anyone other than our mom… it was the strangest thing. After everything he did, how blind he was to what was going on with the cult, how he let us be hurt… he was still our Dad, you know. He loved our mother and that he remained faithful to her…” “It was the only thing of him that you and Oscar could hold onto?” Yes. It had been the last reminder of Ethan that made Evie look back at the memory of her father and smile. All the times before, all the close moments… the things he did before his death, she and Oscar both questioned every heartfelt moment they had with him. Had it been all an act, because the father they grew up with didn’t match the crazed, desperate man who let them be kidnapped and thrown in a container and left for dead. A father doesn’t do that to his own kids, no matter what. Ethan’s faith to his wife, Evie and Oscar’s mother was the only good memory of him that wasn’t tainted. She was angry at Denny because in her own mind, she took away the one thing that didn’t make Evie question her entire childhood, her entire relationship with her parent. Of course, logically, she realised afterwards that was ridiculous. Blaming Denny for it was just a way for her release her frustration and anger, and it made her feel guilty then, but after Denny died, it made (and continued to make her feel) like an awful person. “I was being so stupid… I was angry at her, I almost made her leave…” “But you made it up to her, didn’t you?” “Yeah, but-” “Then that’s all that should matter, love. Hundreds of people have felt and are feeling what you are feeling right now. It may not be as uniquely horrible as it is. I’ve had those days when my flaming regrets, the harsh words…” Alf couldn’t help but give a chuckle when Evie gave him a bit of a dry look, because who knows how many harsh words Alf Stewart has given in his long life. “I don’t know how you get past it, I don’t know how I got past it… but I had my family and friends to lean back on when things got hard, and… well, you just live on. Evie bit her lip, shuffled her shoe and looked down at all her fingers before answering. “I’m going to say something that’ll probably kick me out, but Alf, that’s not much of an answer.” Alf chuckled again. “No it isn’t. I don’t have all the answers, love. It’s just… what it is. You get past it or you don’t. And we all want you to get past it. You still had all those good times with Denise and Oscar and everyone else, you remember them and it doesn’t seem so bad anymore.” Evie had thought that initially, yet all those memories did was make her feel ashamed that she was still alive and they weren’t. It sparked the reminder of Nadia’s words to her of survivor’s guilt, and what Evie herself found when she, for curiosity’s sake, looked it up on her phone while in hospital. It was a condition of post-traumatic stress disorder that wasn’t properly diagnosed until the 1960s. After looking at it, and at several examples of cases, she was stricken at how much she could connect to the feelings of guilt those who suffered it felt, feeling they did something wrong by surviving something that others didn’t. And it left Evie wondering, knowing that anyone who goes through that needs support and help, deserves it… yet couldn’t properly convince herself of the same for herself. Even though she was thinking more than she did, thanks to Nadia and Zac, and was beginning to realise things may not be as she thought them to be, it did nothing to quash the guilt, even though, as she realised it now, she wanted to quash it. In some of those cases of survivor’s guilt, there could have been something the person could have done to stop it, maybe there was still something she could have done… Maybe. Is there any other word that is more haunting than maybe? “I don’t know how to fix this. I feel like I should but I don’t. And everyone’s being so understanding and so nice, and I get why they’re frustrated, but I hate that I made them worry. Yet... they’re still want to help.” Saying that now, instead of feeling the shame that was usually there, she was hit with a thought… would it be okay, if maybe, that if she accepted that help, then maybe things won’t turn out for the worse. You don’t know that. You’ve been letting too many people get too close, and you’ll only regret it. Evie had to keep herself from reacting to hearing that inner thought, because after speaking with Nadia, with Zac, that voice was making less of an occurrence. But anytime it did, it came in full force, connecting itself with the urge to harm herself, she was still scared it was right, threatening to topple her and leaving her struggling to hear Alf’s voice behind it’s taunting presence. “Well, that’s the strange thing about people. You tell them to stay out of it, even if it’s for their own good, but they’ll end up remaining involved, because it’ll hurt them more if you keep them out of it. They chose to accept what you were trying to do, Zac accepted that you were trying to protect him because he loves you and that's all that matter here. People would rather take on pain and suffer together than let anyone suffer alone. They can be an insistent lot, there.” Evie snorted. “I guess there’s no way I could love them and still ware them off,” she reflected. Because maybe, if she knew that critic was a part of her, and maybe she didn’t know how it would end if she asked for help… but neither did the critic. Alf snorted as well. “Would you really want to?” Evie sighed, and then shook her head. “No.” “Then that’s all the answer you need there. But if you do find a way to ware people off, do me a favour and tell me first. I’d want to use it against Palmer.” Evie gave a small smile at that, but Alf considered it a win. ----- Evie was ending up lying across the couch in caravan as soon as she entered it. She had thought of pacing, just so she would be doing something, except that her body was feeling like dead weight, as if her feet were concrete. Her stomach growled like some vicious dog and the blood in her ears were still pounding, but everything still felt so numb. Jeannie was gone for a while now. She had texted Evie, saying she made it but there was already a que in Salts. Evie texted back that was fine, but she felt worried all the same, worried something might have happened to Jeannie. Evie didn’t care about the food, just as long as her friend was okay. She wasn’t gone for long, but it was as though every worse-case scenario in her head ran past her and dominated her thoughts in those few minutes. She was becoming restless, curling and uncurling her fingers in her palms. She didn’t know if she would last long in the caravan alone. The gentle look of concern and compassion Alf gave her (which was incredibly unlike the robust, unrelenting man that was the lifeblood of Summer Bay, in Evie’s opinion), and it reminded her of how Zac and Leah and Matt and Billie and Nadia and everyone else was looking at her. Yes, there was worry, and she hated seeing that in their eyes, but it wasn’t pity, at least she hoped not. It was sympathy and concern… and despite feeling guilty and despicable about it, she did want it. Since when was there something wrong with wanting it? Shut up. You don’t deserve it. She didn’t know which she truly believed in, which side it would be okay for her to believe in. That moment with Zac, his secure, fatherly-like warm arms holding her close, it made her want to accept it more than ever before, and for the first time in a long time, she accepted that help. But afterwards she was hit with a wave of self-loathing for accepting it, but the other part of her that seemed so similar to her logical voice was urging her to give into that need for comfort, that want for it. Then again, her logical voice would never have considered Josh to be a killer, never considered the possibility that she had to live without Oscar. Everything seemed so illogical… And the urge to cut herself, or hit herself, or anything to do to herself had remained insistent on her mind. But Alf’s words also remained in her mind. Evie couldn’t deny at this point that her family really wanted to share her pain, to help her shoulder it. And it had made sense, because she had tried that way as well, she had tried to help Zac and Maddy. Though she had always feared that it wouldn’t be enough but she tried. She only stopped trying when everything in her head was screaming at her that it would never be enough, that she’d only make things worse. She still hated herself for giving up, for not keep doing it for them, hated not talking to Zac, or refusing Maddy’s call, even when she thought she was doing the right thing. She had tried to help Maddy, and she meant what she said, but it never felt enough, not enough that would truly help Maddy other than words, and her former best friend needed more than words. Evie wished she could have done more for her, but feared she would have just made things worse. That fear remained, but she was now considering that even though she could have tried harder before, she could try harder now. She could let them try as well, it was their own choice. She couldn’t forget the way Zac was choked when he asked her if she wanted him to leave her suffer alone- Stop that. You’re just want to believe that. You want them to actually want you. If you truly care about them, you’d keep your distance. It’d be better for them to hate you. Evie was no longer convinced of that, even in her state, she could see that keeping distant wasn’t going to fix anything. Not while they still care. And if they still care after- despite everything she did- how would she be able to drive them away? She shook herself of that thought- suddenly hating even considering that. She didn’t want to drive them away, she realised, she didn’t want that. Because she realised it wasn’t just her pain that would increase- it would be Zac’s pain. It was that reminder that helped her fight to keep herself from running to the other side of the caravan, to the drawer she knew where the scissors were, from using them on herself. She tried to think of anything to keep her of it. The first thing she could think of was Matt. She remembered those times after Josh left, the time she spent with Matt. A lot of people would feel weird about hanging out with friends of the opposite sex after a break-up, but for her or Matt, they made it work initially. Nothing was uncomfortable, nothing was forced, it was fun, it was good to see him… Then, as she doubted everything and lost any hope of doing anything right, things changed. Matt didn’t force anything, but he was insistent, he was stubborn on trying to get her to hang out when she kept pushing him away… even though she always felt good when seeing him, and even though there were times she would want to hang out with him, other times she felt she wanted to be alone. She didn’t know how much she could trust that, because maybe, as Nadia said, everyone needs a moment to themselves, but whether or not she wanted never came into her mind when she was alone. It was dreadful, being alone, nothing but the thoughts and regrets to keep her company. When it came to Matt… she realised she felt annoyed when Matt made the assumptions, especially regarding Josh, but she knew it wasn’t the full story. She remembered that for as many times when he argued with her, there were also the times he tried to comfort her, thinking she deserved better than Josh, driven by his frustration of not being able to do anything and fear of what was going on when he didn't know, and his headstrong way of trying to fix it. Despite that, he remained committed not to giving up on someone he cares about (because she can accept his intentions, if everyone else was accepting hers), and… she didn’t want to ruin their friendship, but she thought it was ruined anyway. Looking at her phone, the contacts open on the page, Evie considered calling him. She wasn’t dependent on anyone’s support, she can’t keep depending on anyone for her life. You’re weak, you know you’re weak… Evie feared it, but she also feared remaining here alone and giving into the urge to hurt herself. She didn’t need the scissors to do so, feeling her hands close into fists by her side. And even if she doesn’t… if she was getting another chance, maybe she could get things straight with Matt. If they could sort it out, maybe she’d be able to be a friend to him again. If he wanted to talk to her. If he hadn’t had enough of her. She raised her phone with a shaky hand, her finger hovering over the call button for Matt before pressing it. she held it to her ear, the voice calling her weak every second. The seconds of calling felt like a week, it was taking too long. Long enough for the insecurities to mock her for that one small foolish indulgence of hers. He wasn’t going to call her, just because she got out of the hospital didn’t mean everything’ll be okay, she was alone, no one wanted to help her, she was awful, there was only one way out- “Evie?” Matt’s voice, sounding both incredulous and relieved resonated in Evie’s head for at least two seconds before she was able to answer back. All the emotions she didn’t know she was feeling was flooding forward. “Matt, hey. How… how are you?” “How… how am I? Evie, how are you? Are… are you out of the hospital yet? Where are you? Are you… okay?” Matt’s voice was deep, and instead of sounding insistent, despite the rapid questions, he asked them attentively and compassionately. “Yeah, just got out today. I’m in my caravan, just… just wanted to check in, see how you’re doing, wanted… wanted to hear you.” Listening to Matt’s voice made her stumble on her own words. It wasn’t what she planned to say, she couldn’t even remember what she planned to say, but she did mean it, even if she told herself she sounded pathetic. She tried to sound like she wasn’t falling apart, but she couldn’t help the tremble in her voice, and her eyes were becoming wet again and- “What’s wrong?” Evie sniffed and cleared her throat to choke down a sob. “No, it’s… it’s nothing, I shouldn’t be bothering you with this.” “Oh, um… are you sure…” Matt’s voice sounded really hesitant until he took a deep breath and asked with a bit of certainty, “Do you want or… do you need to be alone now or…? If that’s what you need, then that’s okay…” Evie contemplated saying yes, saying she ought to be alone, he shouldn’t bother, she deserved to be alone. Yet she knew there was only one honest answer she could give. “No,” she admitted, her voice really thick. “I… I can’t be alone right now, and… I need to sort things out. Could you… I mean… are you free now? If you aren’t it’s no trouble, I can solve it on my own-” Evie felt like that last bit was a complete and utter lie, but Matt’s answer was a sudden reassurance. “If there was anyone I thought could solve it on their own, it’s you. But I’m free now, if you want me to come over-” “Yes,” Evie blurted out before she reconsidered and decided she was too weak. He probably had a lot of stuff to deal with and she didn't want to make things more difficult for him. “Please come. I… we need to talk. I know it’s probably an inconvenience and after everything the last thing you would probably want is deal with this-” “No, this is exactly what I want to talk about. You are not an inconvenience, okay?” “Matt-” “No, you’re more than that. You’re so much more… I’m on my way, okay?” ---- Matt was terrified. Grateful, that Evie was letting him in, but also terrified of what he might find. Evie’s words didn’t give much away of what was going on, but her need to see him, was obvious. He was learning to get that some people need to be alone, even if it seemed strange to him, but he was learning. Evie made him want to learn. His mind was driving him to terrible scenarios, the worse ones were him going there, her cutting herself and him being completely hopeless in helping her- the worst one was him going there, and she had… she had killed herself. That was why he was double-timing it, praying to anyone, anything that that outcome will never come to pass, that he wasn’t too late. He was able to get a break off work to see her. He had been working harder than usual, probably because of the adrenalin he was feeling in preparing to help Evie when she got out of hospital, and the fact that he enjoyed the work really helped and was actually good with working with cars. And now, as he pulled into the caravan, he was desperate to keep the energy, but not too much that he just rushes in and messes the whole situation up. Not for the first time, he wondered whether or not he should have brought Olivia here. She had been both tremendously and surprisingly helpful in getting him to be aware of how Evie may act and what she would need. Matt, surprising himself, was able to hammer all the information and guidance into his brain (when he needs to, his memory was like lightning) and practiced saying it the right way, but he feared he would mess it all up regardless. Maybe Olivia would have known better, but Matt didn’t want to push her anymore than she already has, sensing that this situation was touching too close to home for the younger girl. Matt was grateful enough for the help she did give him, and besides, he realised that if this was to be sorted, it had to be between him and Evie. He prepared himself for what he would say. He wanted to help Evie, he wanted to be there for her, to understand when she needed him, but he also wanted her to know that she can’t expect him to just stand by and let her life go downhill, not without trying to help, not without trying to fix things. He also needed to apologise properly for not thinking clearly before, with Josh and… everything else he missed. He hesitated in front of the door of the caravan. He went through all of it in his head, all the right things in his head. He gathered his nerves and tried to hold onto them tightly, he knocked on the door. He waited for a second, filled with dread, but it was soon replaced by relief when he heard footsteps approaching the door from the inside. When Evie opened the door, he tried to give a small smile, but it was perhaps the smallest smile he could manage, dripping with worry and apprehension. Evie looked as though she was the definition of exhaustion. Her eyes were blinking quickly, her eyes looked red-shot, and her fingers were twitching and twisting against each other on her shorts. She looked very thin and her clothes were hanging onto her. Matt never felt so grateful to see her. “Hi,” Evie said, her voice a low whisper, which Matt responded with equal fervour. She looked down for a second and then without hesitating, she asked, “Would you like to come in?” Matt nodded, and walked up the steps into the caravan. He looked around and found it empty. There wasn’t anything that it looked like Evie owned on the table or the cupboard or couch. “You kept it clean at least,” he remarked, trying to start the conversation light at least. To his relief, Evie gave a genuine snort. “Yeah, at least I’m not going to get noise complaints or anything.” Almost everything she brought with her from the house remained in the bags she brought with her. Apart from clothes, she didn’t need any of the other stuff. Matt gave her a small smile and nodded along, shuffling on his feet. The two sat down in silence on opposite sides of the table in the couch. The two of them looked all over the room, taking great notice at the surroundings before they focused on each other. “Listen, I’m sorry-” “I’m really sorry-” They both talked at the same time, words washing over each other. They looked at each other startled. Then Evie said incredulously “Wow, did we really-” “Did we really fall for that?” Matt repeated bemusedly. If it was any other situation, he’d be laughing at the idea that they had fallen for such a cliché that is found in romantic movies, but he remembered what he had to talk to Evie about, which dampened any idea of amusement in his head. Evie sighed and Matt shrugged in response, before Evie gestured for him to go first. “I’m… I’m really sorry for not handling things better than before. I should have realised with you and Josh… I knew you wouldn’t have stood for anything he did, and I shouldn’t have… I shouldn’t have assumed anything about how you feel about him, especially when I didn’t know the full story, I was being reckless... I was an idiot." Evie looked like she wanted to object but Matt shook his head and continued. "I should have been more careful about what I said, careful with my jokes all of it… I was trying to make things better, but I know I could have tried better to see things from your own perspective and I want to try again, I’m… I’m so sorry, Evie.” Evie looked at him, noticing with sympathy how pale he looked, and the uncertain look in his eyes, but his words were genuine and she had to think about them. Before, being locked in her own self-hatred, she wouldn’t have thought about it, but even though she still held herself responsible for a lot of things and felt she didn’t deserve any apologies, she understood why Matt apologised. She understood he wanted to fix what went wrong and not repeat the same mistakes, especially not with the people he cared about. She tried to ignore the itching feeling that reminded her the scissors were right over there, and focused on who was in front of her. “It’s okay, I… I forgive you, you don't need to apologise.” she said. And she meant it. She didn’t want to fight with him over this. Matt shook his head. She was being so nice in forgiving him, but he wasn’t going to let himself off the hook too easily. “It’s not though. You’re my… you’re my best friend, I should have been more patient, more… I don’t know, more of a better friend, and-” “I know it wasn’t because you were trying to hurt me. You didn’t know, I didn’t tell you much of what was going on, I get that, it wasn't because you were stupid, you're not Matt, it’s just…” Evie grimaced and clasped her hands together. She felt incredibly uncomfortable talking about this, because it felt like talking about herself, and she remained unenthusiastic about it, but the fact was it was all boiling up inside, burning away at her resolve and it all wanted to make it’s way out. “Matt… what you have to get is that… I don’t know how I feel about Josh. I hate what he did, I hate that he just runs off… but I… I just can’t get how we got to that stage. Because… I was sure there was something I could have missed, something I could have done… to make him see what he was doing was wrong…” “He hide it from you though,” Matt replied, hating that she still blamed herself for something Josh did and hid from her. “It’s not as if he left some obvious signs saying he did it.” “But that’s the point Matt!” Evie pointed out. “I couldn’t see it. And… now I’m wondering what else have I missed. All those times we were together… were… were they even real? Was our whole relationship a big lie? If it was… but if it wasn’t… did I owe it to him to stand by him or-” “Absolutely not,” Matt said resolutely. “What he did outweighs anything you may owe him. If you feel angry about him, then that’s completely normal.” “Well, it doesn’t fix everything. It doesn’t make me wonder about everything, everything I felt for him… It was all messed up and…” Evie looked to Matt, wondering if she should even say it… “Matt… I know you were trying to get to help, but how can you tell me what to feel when I don’t even know myself,” she asked her voice rising at every word. “Just because I don’t talk about it doesn’t mean I forgot it, do you get that? I couldn’t get it into words- I still don’t know if I can! Do you know what it’s like to have to question everything you believed in before, to wonder if you were just trying to trick yourself into believing what you want to believe and… feeling… feeling like the people around you are acting like you a time bomb ready to erupt?” She admitted, realising the feeling she never felt before. “No,” Matt admitted abashedly, but he didn’t try and stop her. Evie needed this, she needed to get this all out. He could read it in her expression. “I get it, I get you felt frustrated about not knowing what was going on, and me pushing you away, but… you were rushing ahead with your assumptions, you were rushing too far, and I didn’t know how to deal with it. I couldn’t deal with it okay, I didn’t want to make things worse,” she ended in a whisper, feeling her body getting so tense it was a miracle she got all those words out. She felt guilty talking about it, but it was all inevitable, she felt, she was going to let it all lose eventually. It didn’t keep the guilt down, or stop the urge to hurt herself. “If I didn’t know what it is, didn’t know if I could forget all of it…” she trailed off, shaking her head. She was even wondering if she should have told him. “Okay,” Matt said, taking it all in. And as if he read her mind, he said, “You’re right. I should have realised that. It's good that... that you told me this, I want to know where I messed up to fix it. I mean… I still don’t forgive Josh any more than you do, and I can’t pretend like I understand it… but I guess it does make sense that you… I mean… you and him… were going to be married. No one can really shut off those feelings like a lamp, can you?” “No, you can’t, though there are times I would have liked to,” Evie admitted dryly. “But… just because I was worried like that… It wasn’t because I didn’t trust you. It was because I hated seeing you hurt like that. I hated the idea that what Josh did was controlling your every move… you deserved better than him, and I wanted to help you get through it. I wanted you to get well again and… I know you were trying to protect me, but I don’t need that protection. I wanted to be involved, I wanted to be there for my best friend and try and put the pieces back together, and that you weren’t letting me, yous shut me out, that you were keeping it all to yourself… I doubted myself, I was worried that this was something I couldn't do anything about, and it made me frustrated. I mean, from what I saw… how could you think I was just going to keep out of it?” He remembered how Evie thought she should be dead, her panic attacks, how could he just stand by and let it happen? “I know I shouldn’t have left you like that wondering... I didn't want you to feel frustrated, and I'm sorry for that, I'm sorry for not telling the full truth, I could have… I don’t know how, but I could have explained things better-” “I could have as well,” Matt said, his voice wavering as he didn’t want her to lose herself in blame. He knew she wanted to make things right, even when she had given up hope. “I… I could have explained why I was worried, I shouldn’t have put the wrong ideas in your head… I… I ought to have realised better than most how awful it felt to be smothered. I won't force you into anything you don’t want to do because I want to, and I really hope I haven't, but if I did, I am sorry. I... I forgive you for not talking to me or whatever it was, but I hope you can forgive me for putting pressure on you.” “I know you're trying to not make me feel worse,” Evie replied gently. She knew Matt wasn’t doing so to hurt her, even when a part of her felt convinced he should have done it just to be mean to her, just to spite her. She didn’t want him to apologise, she didn’t want him to feel worse. She wasn’t blameless in this, she made mistakes. “but it doesn’t change the fact was that I was pushing you away at the same time. If I had told you what I needed, you would have accepted it, I know you're a good person, despite what you think. Matt, you have made sacrifices for your friends that very few other people would have, but I didn’t tell you, and that was my own choice. I was already pushing myself away before, I left our friendship because I didn't want it destroyed, even though that doesn't make even sense. I wanted to be the person to support you Matt, you're my best friend, I wanted to be there, but I still pulled away from us… I couldn’t trust myself.” “So,” Matt sighed after a long silence. “I blame myself, you blame yourself… we gonna sort the blame game out like a tug of war or what?” He smiled at the end, a desperate smile, but one that increased when Evie smiled as well. She couldn’t help it. “It doesn’t matter. I don’t want you to feel worse at my own expense. I just want you to understand, while I still think I should be sharing this with... anyone. Maybe, we both messed up, but I don't want our friendship to be ruined because of that. Because… Matt, seeing you, hanging out with you… it was one of the few things that got me through it all for a very long time. You and Zac and Leah were the ones who were getting me out in the morning, you were. Hanging out, it was what I wanted as well, I had fun, and I hope… I hope it was what you wanted as well. I was just… I was sure it didn’t matter what happened to me, I didn't think about what I needed, I didn't care about it, not when other people were hurt… far worse. I wasn’t going to let my own happiness get in the way of people I… I care about getting hurt. I didn't want to be that selfish-” “I would have taken the risk,” Matt insisted. “I don’t want you to feel worse for me either, but I also don't give a damn about inconveniences, or dealing with extra hassle.” “I… I thought you should care, I thought you deserved better than to deal with this. I… I thought you would have grown fed up with me, and- it wasn’t because of anything you did. With everything going on with me… it was too much, and I was sure it was too much for anyone to deal with willingly, and I didn’t want to force you into it.” “You’re not forcing me to help you. I’m choosing to, just like you’re choosing to forgive me. I wasn't there as much as you needed me to be before, but I will be now, I promise. You deserve to be taken care of. You deserve to follow your own happiness." Matt locked both his hands on the table and leaned forward to look Evie in the eye, so she could tell how serious he, Matt the joker, the former class clown, was. "Please… please let me help, please tell me when you want space for yourself. I understand now when you would need it. I.. I miss the times when we hang out, I loved hanging out with you, it was one of the few things left in my life that made me truly smile, and…” the memories of the scars flashed through his brain, how much she had hurt, and Matt would give anything to make sure those times came back again. “I want us to do that again, as long as it is what you want it as well, but only if it’s that. I can't unless you want it as well. Maybe we both handled this wrong before... but it doesn't mean we'll keep doing it.” Evie looked at him, looked at how earnest he was, and wondered how she got such a wonderful friend. How could he want to be with someone so full of mistakes and self-hatred and sorrow. "I really do," she admitted, before chuckling helplessly. “Look at the pair of us, trying to tell the other how to do things.” Matt was going to respond hopefully when he noticed something. And it was extremely difficult to keep his eyes away from it. It… it looked like a bruise on her forehead, that part of her temple tucked away behind bangs of black hair. It… it may not have been what he thought it was, maybe she could have bumped her head against something… but he remembered the scars, the frightened, despairing way she said I should be dead, I should be dead in some mantra, and he knew he couldn’t keep quiet. “Evie, are you okay? I’ve… it’s nothing you did wrong, you’re alright, but I’ve noticed… what has happened?” Evie looked back to him, her nervousness getting the better of her. “What do you mean? It’s nothing”, she said, already biting on the lie because she feared he had seen it. She had tried to fight the urge she did, but… but she was hit with so much fear and guilt after she called Matt, despite how eager he sounded. It made her hope that he actually did want to see her, that he didn't hate her-, but then all the opposite questions came flowing back. What if she ended up opening up again, what if she ended up hurting him? She tried to remind herself of Nadia’s words, of Zac’s words, of Jeannie’s reassurances and of Matt’s earnestness. She could only hear the words, you’re going to hurt him, you’re going to hurt him, you’re going to hurt all of them, and it just overwhelmed her. She didn’t go for the scissors, but she ended up hitting herself. She ended up pounding her temple before she could even consider anything other than the usual feeling of wanting to punish herself, needing to hurt herself. However, she was filled with shame afterward, even when she was convinced she deserved it. She didn’t know what would happen if someone found out, what would Matt would think- except she did know. He would be hurt by it, he would feel bad about her hurting herself, he would be horrified- or else, she wondered if he wouldn’t. Maybe he’d be disgusted at her for doing this to herself, the inner voice whispered smugly. No one should do that to themselves, why did she do it, even if she deserved it. why did she let her do that to herself. Evie tried to tell herself that wasn’t true, that she could trust Matt- but she had never done this to herself before this year, didn’t know anyone who self-harmed. She had no idea how the people around her would react. He may hate her, maybe they’ll all see her for how horrible she truly was- She didn’t realise how much she was gasping for breath, her eyes clouding with unshed tears. It was funny, she thought she cried out all of her tears when she cried with Zac. But she… she didn’t want to disappoint Matt, she didn’t want to disappoint anyone, she didn’t want to hurt anymore, why didn’t she die… Suddenly she felt something close to her hand as she was falling apart. She was on the floor, curled up near the couch. Matt was on the floor as well, sitting next to her, his hand not touching hers, but letting her be aware of his presence, if she wanted to. She could see his face, blurry through her tears, and his face was stricken and worried, not sure of what to do. Evie reached out for his hand hesitantly, as if she was afraid if she reached out he would pull away. But he took her hand, and held onto her gently. That encouraged Evie to grip his, as she chocked on trying to calm down as tears rolled down her face. “I… I can’t hold it in anymore,” she admitted amid her tears. “What is it?” Matt asked, his voice nervous. He was wondering if this was it, was Evie going to tell him? Would he have to ask? “I’ve… I’ve…” Evie dragged a hand across her face, wishing she could just disappear, disappear into a scuttle in a dark hole somewhere. Matt saw her face darken, as if she was shrinking back from herself, but he didn’t think he should stop, not when she looked so upset. He had to be gentle, though, he didn’t want to force her into anything. “If you don’t want to talk about now, or ever if you want to, that’s fine, but if you do-” “I do,” Evie blurted out, crying now. “I want to, it’s… it’s all in there, and I’ve been keeping it all in, and I can’t do it anymore, it’s too much pressure, but I… I also don’t want to. I’m afraid of what you'll think. I don’t want to hurt or disappoint you.” “That’s not important. This is not something to be ashamed of. It’s not…selfish or cowardly or anything bad, what you’re feeling, it’s none of those things. But… if I can help you in anyway, I'm here.” Evie didn’t know how to go forward from here. Everything in her head was hurting and she felt as though it was ripping her apart. Her heart was pounding so hard she felt dizzy, but all she could think was, don’t talk about it, don’t admit it, don’t be selfish, so what if she’ll keep living in fear, she was so afraid about it, it was so pathetic, she still had to keep it in, she was so worried about how others thought about her, if she did this she’d lose them, she’d be right to lose them, she didn’t deserve help, don’t be self-seeking, don’t be stupid, don’t be a burden- But when, she turned to Matt, and saw nothing that looked like judgement, annoyance or anything other than disappointment, and a new thought came into her head- don’t be afraid. “I… I’ve been hurting myself.” It felt horrible to say, yet it also made her feel incredibly light, like it was suddenly all free, no shackles or anvils holding her back. But that moment lasted for only a second, because she hated saying it, she sounded cowardly, selfish, her heart was hammering in her chest and she just wanted it to stop. She swore that she would never let anyone see her like this, yet it seemed like another thing she messed up. She forced her hands down to her legs, feeling a snippet of astonishment that she was still capable of moving her hands, and drove her fingernails back through the pants and reaching into the skin, her shaky, improper gasps of breaths hitching as she pressed harder. She heard Matt inhale beside her, his grip never losing for a second. His face was falling, and his own eyes were watering, yet his hand never left hers as he tried to pry them away from her legs. She shouldn’t have told him. She knew the reaction would never be good, she should never have told him. “Pl-please… please don’t hate me,” Evie gasped. “I know it… it is awful, I shouldn’t have told you, and I deserve the pain and I’m awful, and I… I shouldn’t even be alive, but… please… please don’t hate me.” “I’m not going to hate you, I could never hate you, I, and Leah and Zac and Mason and everyone, we are all so glad you’re alive,” Matt said resolutely amid his panic and sorrow. It brook his heart to see Evie crying like this. He hasn’t seen her like this in a very long time. He leaned out of Evie’s grip to look her in the eyes. He wiped off tears from her cheeks with such gentleness Evie almost dissolved into sobs again. It was taking everything within Matt not to cry right now, not when Evie needed him, so he remembered the key words Chris and Olivia gave them and he started. He couldn’t forget the words, he needed to stay calm and supportive. He felt anger at how terrible things have gotten, but he wasn't going to let it show, not to Evie. He would never let her think she had done something wrong here. “What do you feel when… you feel like doing that? What is your mindset at?” “I… I just feel so much anger and pain and… I hate that Oscar’s gone, and Hannah and Denny and I can’t connect with everyone anymore. It just was… so numbing. I felt empty and couldn’t let myself think of things like Josh or how much I missed them… I felt like I deserved to feel something harsh, something hurting, because of the pain I caused to everyone else. I needed it… I thought I could use it to keep me focused, to keep me from making mistakes.” She looked back over to him, hating how much both of them were hurting right now. Matt’s face was twisted in an expression she couldn’t even begin to describe. She wasn't telling him this to hurt him, or trying to get him to fix her, but just so he could understand, just so she could get it out. She hoped she wasn't wrong in doing so. “But I kept making mistakes, and I… I just needed to feel the pain when things got too much. I thought I deserved it.” Evie took a shuddery breath and sobbed as she shifted uncomfortably. “I still think I deserve it.” “When do things get too much?” Matt asked. Evie shrugged helplessly. “All the time.” She looked down at her sleeve, knowing where the cuts had been. She also knew that Mason and Tori cleaned the cuts up, cleaning them up and preventing anything from being infected. She reached out to the sleeve to pull it open, but she hesitated, looking at Matt. “Could… could you please not look? I…I need to see it, but…I won’t do it if it makes you uncomfortable, and I… I don’t think I can if you're…” Matt nodded slowly, even though the crashing waves in his head was receding. “You need to check them, I get it. I’ll look away.” Evie was so nervous that she was saying the wrong or selfish thing by asking for it, but she nodded gratefully, as she reluctantly pulled up the sleeve to look at her wrecked skin Most of the scars were white, or faded pink, but there were some that flushed angrily. Band-aids and cream were streamed over the cuts. Evie had to admit Mason and Tori did a good job taking care of them, and she felt it was nice of them, but she felt ashamed that she put them through dealing with that. “Well, they did a good job covering it,” she muttered in a wooden tone, not giving anything away. She spoke really quietly but Matt still heard her and his entire body tensed. “Evie… don’t. Don’t talk like them saving your life was a mistake.” Matt’s voice came out grim and pain-stricken. Evie couldn’t tell him that a part of her still believed saving her life was a mistake, but she still felt it. She felt so tired that if she was standing on a balcony, if it wasn’t for Matt and Zac and Leah and everyone else that she wanted to stay, the pavement far down below would have looked like a soft bed. She shouldn't have put it like that though, especially how he reacted, her words were incredibly callous. It wouldn't have mattered as much to her if she said it to herself (no matter how much of a jolt it gave her), but to someone else... “I’m sorry, I… I just needed to pay for what I did. Everyone around me was hurt… it only seemed like the only thing I could do. I hate feeling like this, but I do… all the time. I just can’t live with…” “With what?” “With letting Oscar and Hannah die. With letting my family down.” Evie looked away, tears gathering up again. “But I care about you guys, I really missed you all… I hurt you leaving. I don’t want to hurt you again.” “Evie,” Matt felt he had so much to say but he didn’t know which one to start with. He decided to pick the one that mattered the most to her. “Oscar loved you, Hannah loved you, nothing would have ever changed that, and nothing would have changed your love for them. You are a protector, through and through. I understand why you did what you did- because the people you care about couldn’t stop mattering for you. You mean too much for everyone for us not to do anything. You’ve… you’ve been through so much this year and you want the pain to keep adding on. You don’t think you deserve anything good this world can give you. Aren’t you tired, Evie? Hasn’t it been enough?” Evie shrugged, still silently crying. Matt couldn’t tell whether or not she thought it was. When she spoke again, her voice was gravelly and still sounding so defeated. “It never seems enough. It doesn’t seem to end, not with Oscar gone… not with me still here. I couldn’t even handle it keeping it together right, I was just lying about all of it. I thought it was the right thing to do, but I was just lying… I was just like Hunter or Josh…” No, absolutely not, no. Matt was not hearing this from Evie, not now or ever. “No, nothing like Josh or Hunter. This… it isn’t good, but I know you were just trying to cope and you were afraid, it’s natural. This wasn’t your fault, none of it. This isn’t even close to what they did, you are not a criminal, you’re not a bad person, you weren’t trying to hurt us and you weren’t covering up a crime or anything as bad as that, never think that.” Matt let Evie consider that for a moment, before asking tentatively, “Do you think, do you want Zac or Leah down here so?” Evie shook her head rapidly, her posture straightening. “They… they can’t see me like this, I don’t want them to be disappointed or ashamed, I don’t know how I can deal with them seeing… what I did. I’m so afraid of how they would think. God, how am I any different-” “You are different from them, you are worth the help, you are worth the world. This is about your own mental health, it is affecting you. Zac and Leah would never be disappointed in you. They love you, we’ll always worry about you, the same way you would for us. And you can’t be afraid of what people would think, you never were before. It'll still hurt us to see you in pain. You can’t live your life in fear of what would happen, that’s no way to…” he hesitated, but realised he can't think of any other way of putting it, “it’s no way to live. It’ll be okay-” “It’s not going to be okay, Matt,” Evie suddenly shouted. “It doesn’t feel like that, it’ll may never be okay again! I was so weak, so stupid!” She drops down back into her crouched position, her hands scarping against in anguish. Inside her own head, Evie’s words echoed tormentingly again and again. Everything has changed, and they weren’t going to be the same again. And part of it was because of what she did to herself. Even if it wasn’t her fault, it will still be changed, how everyone sees her would change. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m sorry you heard me talking about it, I’m sorry I made you worry, I’m…” she mumbled against her own knee, but Matt edged forward, taking hold of her fist gently. “If I'm not allowed to apologise, then you shouldn't either," he whispered with a gentle smile. “I promise you, this…” he gestured around them. “This shouldn’t make any of us change our opinion of you. You are still the same clever, kind, enduring… admittedly over-stubborn and insistent,” he added dryly before getting serious again, “person who I am so happy to call my friend. No one who really cares about you would ever think you were weak or stupid or anything you thought you were, even if they knew about this. But if you don’t want to talk about it that’s okay. I’m not going to do anything you don’t want to do,” Matt said earnestly, taking his own friend’s needs before anything else right now, but when Evie winced and brought a hand to her temple, Matt realised they ought to take care of that. “But, you need to be taken care of, you need help.” “I need help,” Evie repeated distantly, her face staring off into the distant, but the look in her eyes was suddenly determined. Matt never thought he heard anything braver. Then she winced again, holding her head together as a massive headache was coming on. "What do you think we should do?" Matt asked, needing to know what she felt the next step should be. “I think… I think we need to take care of this,” she said, pointing at her own head. “Okay, I’ll look around for something,” Matt insisted. He stood up, looking over the cupboards for an ice pack or some medicine or something, but he couldn’t find anything. Evie stood up as well, getting her phone in her hand, while reaching for a towel near the sink. She turned on the water and she pressed the towel under the cold water. Looking back to Matt, she shrugged sheepishly despite her tears. “I used to take aspirin when I was at the house when I got headaches. Overtime I neglected it, but sometimes… sometimes when I just need to get through the day, I just used a cold towel on my forehead.” Matt nodded acceptingly, though they both knew that wasn’t enough. “It’s better than nothing.” “I can call Jeannie, she said she was coming back and… she can get some aspirin. But until then, could we… could we just sit here, for a while?” “Absolutely.” They both sat down on the couch together. Matt sat down carefully, not wanting to be close in case he made Evie feel uncomfortable, the last thing he wanted was for her to feel smothered or anything, but then Evie did something he didn’t expect of her then; she scooted forwards, and after three seconds of hesitation, she leaned towards him, resting her head on his shoulder. Matt, feeling so much gratitude and wonder, gave her a look asking for permission, and she gave a slight nod, he gently raised his arm around her shoulder to bring her closer and rested his forehead against her hair, breathing in her scent, not even caring about the smell. This, for the moment, was their normal. “Matt…” Evie suddenly murmured, her voice ridden with concern. Matt looked down at her worried. But Evie was staring at him with concern all of a sudden. She gestured down at his hand, and told him, “Matt.. you’re shaking.” Matt looked down and to his surprise, his hand was shaking. His fingers were interlocked with each other and they were trembling within each other. Of course, he shouldn’t be surprised he was shaking- he was so nervous, and it was more than just about saying and doing the right thing. The two of them had skirted closer to Evie’s death than Matt would ever want to venture. They were trapped in a nightmare world where he could make all the promises and reassurances that he wanted, but he feared it wouldn’t be enough to guarantee he could save Evie from herself. To guarantee that the suffocating darkness that had followed Evie for too long wouldn’t take hold. What if he wasn’t what Evie needed? What if it wasn’t enough? Matt wanted to do this for Evie, a girl that mattered so much to her as a friend and a person, a girl who truly needed help finding her way out of the pain and misery. He wasn’t one of those twits prancing around acting like they’re saving some helpless damsel in distress (and he needed to make sure he didn’t end up like one), because Evie was so much more than that, even when she was in pain. But he wasn’t naïve enough to believe that would be enough, because it may not. However, as long as he had help, as Evie had other people in her corner as well as him, it may well be enough. It may be enough to help Evie enjoy what she enjoyed before again. It may be enough to keep her alive. Evie was still concerned over the shaking and placed her hand over his, just like he did. It was the way he had treated her, with no judgement or disappointment, that made her feel like she could do the same for him, to let him know he didn't have to be ashamed of being afraid. She just wished she hadn't made him feel like that. Still, he had jumped into a hypothetical rabbit hole with her, hand in hand, and she won't forget that. Matt looked back at her abashedly and held onto hers, though it didn’t stop the shaking. “Thank you, thank you for trusting me,” he told her, before chuckling helplessly. Here he was trying to comfort her, and she ended up doing the same to him at the same time. Evie was truly quiet something. “Guess I don’t know what normal is anymore.” Evie chuckled gently as well, remembering an old conversation. “Yep, still can’t find that friend of yours ‘normal’. Any luck so far on your end?”, and then as an after-note. "Thank you." Well, they talked about their issues (and hopefully I've done it without being unfair to either side) and now things are looking up and Evie'll begin to see things more positively about herself. Thanks again for your patience, guys.
  2. Yeah, that wasn't intentional! Since it was just largely Zac and Evie, I had planned for this chapter to be a lot shorter than usually. Yet somehow, I realise I had to address a lot that needed to be discussed, so hopefully it wasn't overwhelming. Still, I'm glad you thought it was powerful. After so much negative feelings in the previous chapters, it was good to end with some actual hope, this is what I was working for, and I'm glad to actually make it. I wanted to be patient about it, because not everything is going to be solved once away. Every major issue needs to be dissected and discussed appropriately because I'm aware of how important these issues are in real life and I have every desire to do them respect. I do not wish to misrepresent or belittle the experiences that real people go through so I want to explore all of them thoroughly. They both definitely understand each other a lot better now, with Zac realising that he has to see outside his own experience, and though Evie still doesn't fully believe that she deserves help and happiness, she is beginning to actually think about alternatives of what she had believed and understanding better ways of both looking after herself and taking responsibility for herself. After seeing her family try and support her even when she thinks she has messed up horribly, she begins to realise that maybe she could be actually worth it and that being afraid of her inner demons and actually setting limits doesn't make her a bad person. There's still the issues regarding her relationships (with her figuring out for true what she did and didn't do wrong as well as what her loved ones did and didn't do wrong and act appropriately, and Matt having realising how much he didn't realise before, and now he'll be able to learn and do better and be a good friend, especially regarding the issue of self-harm) as well as her own internal struggle with her intentions, her feelings and her other troubles, such as her self-harm. She won't be easily swayed out of keep doing so, because once you start it is a difficult climb to get out of, but for now it's more than a hopeful start than before. I'm not sure when I'll upload next, life is taking unexpected turns at home, but when I can upload, I will. Thanks again.
  3. Descriptions of suicidal feelings, panic attacks and violence in prison in this chapter (all hopefully realistic enough based on my research). Don't read it if any of it makes you feel uncomfortable for your own sakes, otherwise, enjoy. Chapter 17 Evie heard the door open and she didn’t even bother in hiding the deep breath she took before she looked towards Zac as he slowly walked towards her. She had asked Nadia to ask him if she could speak with him, but she was so afraid of what would happen if she actually decided to open up about everything. How would Zac feel? What if she ended up hurting him even more? She had ask Nadia that and the answer she gave wasn’t as encouraging as Evie had hoped to be: It’ll hurt him to hear what you’ve been feeling, but he knows this already, and he’ll want to hear as much as you’ll let him all the same. There’s no easy way around this, you’ll both end up hurting, but if you take this route, I can tell you from experience you’ll be able to stop hurting. Evie knew Nadia was probably right, but she didn’t like that answer. It felt as though no matter what she did, she would end up hurting Zac regardless. She didn’t want that for him, she didn’t want him or anyone else to hurt as much as they already had. She wanted that route that would avoid any hardship for him. She still remembered the look on his face when she admitted what she had done, (or what she thought she- no, she couldn’t convince herself otherwise) and saw, even when trying to keep her face together, how Zac’s own face crumble itself. He had the look of someone standing on the edge of a cliff, hoping that what he had thought wasn’t, by some miracle wasn’t true. It was Evie who had pushed him off- Her brain entirely froze at that metaphor, because her memory flashed back to those times she stood or sat on the edge of the cliff of the lighthouse, a place used for solitude or wonder so many times before, only those times were just her wondering whether or not she herself would jump off, those moments when her entire being tethered on whether or not to give into that urge, even bleakly wondering how far she would fall. She would have to tell someone about that, probably, but… she didn’t know how to tell anyone about that urge, the feelings that overcame her, not even Nadia. She didn’t want to leave anyone with only half-hearted explanations that would ultimately change nothing. Nadia would want her to at least try, encouraging her that a chance to do better and to have another chance of life was something worth trying at. Evie, though she didn’t fully admit that to Nadia, wasn’t really convinced. The thought of ruining that chance and not making anything better for anyone remained strong in her mind, especially if she didn’t deserve it. If she didn’t, then as far as Evie was concerned, then the entire point was moot, because she still remembered there were others who deserved it more than she did. The entire idea of it seemed so… not impossible, but too exhaustible to try. She knew it wasn’t fair for Zac, she hated the idea of leaving him or anyone else, but he shouldn’t want her to try, she was so sure he’d be better off without her. She remembered when she and Oscar- She couldn’t even follow that thought, her head suddenly giving way to a massive headache as if to block her train of thought from even continuing. It was one of her best memories of him, but she couldn’t let herself think of it. Even that felt too good for her to reach out for it. Now that she thought about it… it was as if… all she could let herself think of was all the things she shouldn’t have done, how she let Oscar down, yet knowing and remembering all those good times but never focusing on them, as if those moments never really happened… “How are you feeling?” Zac’s cautious voice broke Evie out of her thoughts, causing her to turn to him. It was a harmless question, and Evie felt as though he couldn’t think of anything other to say, but she still tried to ignore how hopeless the question that sounded. What did he expect her to say? She couldn’t think why that was relevant to him? He ought to be talking to her about everything she had done, how she hurt everyone… “Awful,” she muttered. Part of her screamed at her to tell him something other, something that would be more encouraging, but the other part of her didn’t want to give him anything that felt like false hope, so where did that leave other than the truth? Well, the truth was that for some strange reason, she felt slightly less awful than she had not long ago. Her talk with Nadia had left her thinking a lot, a break from the cycle of negativity that had been controlling her breath for so long, but it still left her with so much anxiety, despair and worry, because what if it didn’t matter if Nadia was right or wrong? What if Evie could still bring misery and ruin to everyone she still loved? What if she was still to blame for Oscar and Hannah’s death? What if she still set off all these events- the possibility remained. And not being able to do anything while your twin gets--- the one person you can’t imagine your life without gets killed and there was nothing you can do? “I… I spoke to Nadia and… and I guess I’m thinking stuff completely different, but… but I don’t know if it will change anything. And I know that things can’t go on… I’ve said it before, but things need to change… I have to change, for real this time.” “I’ll help,” Zac replied, without a moment of hesitancy or forcedness evident in his voice. “Evie, you are one of the most intelligent people I know, but something like this can never be done alone. I can see it, Evie, I can see now how much all of this is taking its toll on you. It’s…” his voice shuddered for a moment before he could muster the bravery to continue, reminiscent of a sailor about jump off a sinking ship: “It’s killing you.” Evie gave a bitter sigh. “It doesn’t matter, none of it matters. I don’t… I don’t want to make it anyone else’s problem.” “Evie, that’s not what this is about,” Zac insisted softly, struggling to maintain his composure as he lifted his hand to hold onto Evie’s hands, which were crunched up against the middle of her chest. From there, Zac felt Evie’s heartbeat, and even that sounded so weary to him. It was just like when he saw her the night before- if it hadn’t been for Evie’s monitor right beside him when he was waiting for her to wake up, all giving the encouraging ‘all clear’ signs, Zac would have collapsed from the fear of it all. “This is about me figuring out how to help you. You don’t have to give me any explanations, I… I wouldn’t have judged you. I know you wanted to handle things on your own… you’ve always been like that, but sometimes it’s better not to bear it all by yourself. Me, Leah, we’d be happy to share your problems. Maybe I wasn’t there for as often as I thought I was, or understood you as much as you needed me to be, but I’ll do better, Evie, I promise.” Evie looked over at him, her eyes looking so distant and distracted. Then suddenly, for a ghastly moment, the corner of her mouth uplifted quickly for a moment, as if she was just about to burst into a laugh- a bitter, hopeless laugh. “Jesus… Zac… out of all the things… don’t you see.. this is why I’m no good, this is why you’re far better off without me anywhere near you…” “What do you mean?” Zac asked slowly, horror etching it’s way into his voice. Evie shook her head and laid back down against the bed. “I wanted to kill myself, and you think you did something wrong.” Knowing it was one thing- hearing it said so starkly, in a soft, resigned voice as if she was awaiting it, made Zac’s whole body felt as though it wanted to topple against itself. Evie lost herself in a place so bleak and so dark that Zac couldn’t even imagine winding up in himself, not even on the most bleakest of days in his life. And the way she admitted it… living without Evie, his family, sounded like a merciless nightmare, but hearing such a blatant disregard for her own life was unnerving. The grim humour left Evie as soon as she came and her face was filled with regret. “I… I shouldn’t have… I shouldn’t have said that…” “It’s okay…” Zac murmured, not sure if he believed it himself. Nothing in this situation was okay, but Zac realised that he needed to find out why, find out more. Having Evie confirm it, in a way more than just on a piece of paper, meant a lot, and though the way she confirmed it was brutal, it was at least honest. Zac could help her find a way back, a way for her to express all of this in a more healthier way, a way that wouldn’t hurt either of them. And because the thought was ingrained in his head, and he knew he had to ask it eventually or never, he tentatively (not tentatively- meekly), asked, “Would you… would you try to do it again?” When Evie looked back at Zac, there thankfully was no look of grim humour. She was deep in thought, her eyes glazed over in indecisiveness and fear. “I… I don’t know,” Evie admitted, and was surprised to find it was the truth. Even if she felt she ought to do it, she didn’t know if she would. She didn’t know how to even begin to explain any of this, but she knew, however much she didn’t like it, no matter how much Zac didn’t like it, she couldn’t avoid talking about it. She wrote it in a letter for him, he could very well read the signs, Evie couldn’t expect him not to talk about it. “I don’t even know if even… this,” she gestured to the bed she was in, “didn’t happen… if I would have done it.” And the confused look on Zac’s face prompted her, from an urge she didn’t know was there, to explain. “I…I don’t plan to do it Zac, I don’t just wake up and say ‘I’ll do it today’. It… it just happens…” she hesitated, not knowing if she could explain further, or should. But Zac only tightened his fingers around her clasped hands and somehow, that seemed like a sign for her to continue (despite her critic mocking her: You think this changes anything? You think Zac wants to hear any of this?). It wasn't easy to explain, but somehow she found words suitable enough to explain. “It’s as though something comes over me… an overwhelming crushing feeling that it’s all just pointless… and that there’s only one road… sometimes nothing has to happen… and, it’s all I can think about… it’s the only thing there and my brain is… it’s telling me just how… how easy it would be... maybe the easiest thing I’ve ever done.” Easy wasn’t even close to how Zac could describe this conversation, but he didn’t say anything not yet. This was as closest he ever got to Evie talking about her feelings, he won’t stop her. He couldn’t ignore the obvious words that weren’t being said: that yesterday wasn’t the only time she had thought of suicide. This had happened before. “But then… I get… I don’t know paralysed… even when everything in my head is telling me to just…” she shook her head, focusing up at the ceiling above them, as if that would suddenly start showing the answers needed… “And I want to do it, but for some reason, I never do. That feeling doesn’t go away, but it’s no longer the only thing there.” “But the letter…” “I wrote it, because… so some reason I convinced myself that I would actually do it yesterday. I told myself that if I went… if I at least tried to make it up to Matt for not being there when I promised to… I could at least…” Evie frowned trying to make sense out of what she felt then, because she knew now what she didn’t then: that just because she thought she would have done it then, didn’t mean she would have. Evie had no idea whether or not she would have even give in to that urge- she wanted to say yes, but she didn’t know. Surely knowing at least she did something right would have made it easier for her to do it- wouldn’t it? “…at least I could end it, all of it, on a… a high note…” She looked back to Zac and had to keep herself from visibly wincing at the look on his face. Her chest felt like she just inhaled smoke, filled with corrosive stuff, hollowing her insides out. It was something she couldn’t even begin to describe, but she knew this hurt him. She felt so stupid, she shouldn’t have said anything, she should have remembered opening the crack into her world him or anyone was going to upset him. She knew this particular subject would upset him… then why did she even talk about it? The tears Zac blinked back were painful, burning things, yet somehow his voice was able to gather some sense of gentle encouragement he would give to a kid during a test. Maybe it was how he watched as Evie’s features fell as soon as she turned her head towards Zac, like she had just chocked down on a shot of vodka with all the burn and none of the buzz. So, very softly, he said the only thing he could think of: “Thank you.” Evie’s head shot up, her eyes blurring in a sense of alarm and rapid confusion. “For what? What could you possibly have to thank me for?” “Because you told me. It may not be everything, but you talked to me about your problems. I’m really proud of you for that. You didn’t do it, Evie, that’s the important thing.” Zac thought that maybe it was a sign that she didn’t want to kill herself, but he didn’t say that. He didn’t know that for sure and he won’t say it until he knew for sure. Evie, on the other hand, suddenly wasn’t in the mood for soft. “So what am I supposed to do? Get stuck in that state over and over again?! Being completely hopeless?” Evie wasn’t shouting, but the strain in her gravelly voice was clear. “I don’t even know why I don’t do it, and yet… I keep going back. I keep going back to you and acting like I deserve your kindness! And at the same time, I was keeping it all hidden from you and that was hurting you! I didn’t realise too late how much I was hurting you, but… I had to keep it away, and it still made nothing better!” Evie felt as though there was more for her to say, but her voice got too scratchy for her to continue, resulting in her falling back on the bed again. She didn’t know how she could tell him anything else, all the other stuff. She knew he wouldn’t support her, no one would. “Come on Evie, stay with me,” Zac encouraged her, holding onto her shoulder lightly to try and calm her down, noticing how she was beginning to lose focus. He knew what was eating away at her. She felt as though there was no other way she could have handled this, so she stuck with it, even when it must have seemed so pointless for her. His heart was breaking for her, because he knew that she was trying, but he was here now. He didn’t try enough at this angle, because he didn’t know it was necessary to convince Evie that they did love her, but he will try to do. Evie didn’t realise she was having a panic attack until her eyes almost darkened from how dizzy she felt. Her breathing was… slow, but her insides tightened to an incredible degree that every breath felt like the last. A panic attack. She had experienced it before, so many times, but she could never put a name on it until she and Nadia talked about it… “It was as if… I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move… couldn’t feel anything… every part of me was screaming to move, to do something, but my body was frozen… my…” Evie looked up at Nadia, uncertain if she should even talk about any of this, but the soft look in Nadia’s eyes seemed to set something off, made her continue. “My ears were ringing, and everything was blocked out…” “Have you ever experienced something like that before?” “What?” “Have you ever experienced those moments? Stomach pounding, needing to take deep breaths, feeling as though your entire body is about to shut down?” Nadia prodded gently, before confirming, peering up to Evie, “Am I describing it correctly?” Evie found herself nodding against every urge in her mind, wondering if she was just digging a bigger hole for herself. Then she wondered if it even mattered. “Would you know what would cause it?” Evie found it ridiculous that this was considered a problem, but... “I… I had moments when I hear a loud noise or suddenly I have trouble just breathing…everything just stops… I have trouble breathing but I get my breath back, but I don’t know how… I don’t know why… I don’t know why I lose control like that, or why to do it in public places…” She felt awful the entire time talking about it, she hated talking about it, she shouldn’t be talking about herself, she shouldn’t make it just about herself… “What you experienced, Evie, was an anxiety attack. As someone who experienced them when I was even younger than you are right now, it is an entirely normal thing.” Evie looked up at that, her eyes desperately looking into Nadia’s as if searching for the truth or not. She felt so weak, so weak and stupid. “Really?” “Yeah,” Nadia nodded, smiling softly. “Sometimes, things just overwhelm us, our physical strength tries to abandon us, and it all feels like it’s the end. When a person doubts themselves to such a degree, it can cause a severe assault on the mind, resulting in something like an anxiety attack. Sometimes all you can do is try get past it… but if you don’t get help for it, it will reach the point in which even if you try and wait for it to end, it won’t. I’m thinking that was what happened tonight.” “Would you…” Evie asked, before hesitating and stopping herself from going any further. She didn’t feel she deserved to ask for help. “Would I know how to stop it?” Nadia filled in the rest of the sentence, to which Evie automatically and frantically nodded. “Well, I know several relaxing techniques and how to practice mindfulness, but that doesn’t necessary mean will make any of it stop, at least not for a while. It would help more if you had someone with you. If you tried to call someone, before it gets-” “No,” Evie shook her head resolutely. She won’t let anyone see her like that, and she won’t let them waste time watching her look so pathetic. “Evie, you can’t hide this forever. Not only can anyone be able to do that, with everything else going on, you will not be able to do it, but it will not fix anything. What happened yesterday, it could happen anywhere, and you will have to explain it.” Evie shook her head, not saying anything… because even though she didn’t want to admit it, later she knew it was because there was nothing to say. “It’s nothing to apologise for, Evie, because you don’t have any control over something like that. I find it extremely unlikely that you made yourself react like that. It’s just aftershocks you’re feeling, like tremors after a volcanic eruption. Evie, you can’t be afraid of what they think. Take it from someone who experienced it, as embarrassing as the immediate aftermath is, it is not pathetic to let yourself be vulnerable.” “I’m not afraid of how I’m going to be seen!” Evie insisted, her voice going incredibly shrill. Out of all the things she felt, fear was the last thing she was even close to feeling. She may be a thousand things- a liar, a coward, a brat, a selfish, good-for-nothing idiot who lived far long than she was suppose to- but fear? Fear wasn’t one of them. She wasn’t afraid, least all of something like Nadia was suggesting, she had nothing left to be afraid of. Nadia gave her a disbelieving look but didn’t comment on it. “Okay, let’s talk about your sleep… have you been sleeping well?”… I’m not afraid of how I’m going to be seen. Well… Evie felt that was the truth, but being afraid in other cases… was she? She didn’t want to lose any of her remaining family and friends, wouldn’t she call that fear? She never admitted it because it wasn’t important, she didn’t want to admit her feelings mattered… but she knew deep down that fear had been a driving force for what she had done, even if it felt that it was what she was supposed to do. She was afraid of losing everyone else, but what if it was just more than life or death. What if she was afraid of losing them as family and friends. She felt that was true, she felt that she hide what was going on because not only to protect them, but also because she thought she would only drive them away. That was before she realised she ought to, that doing any other would make her like Josh, but what if that fear remained? She never admitted any of what was going on, of what she did to herself. Did that mean she was afraid for everything else as well, what the others thought? “It just doesn’t seem to do any good,” Evie mumbled, her voice still incredibly strained. “No matter what I do, I’m just going to screw up and hurt people. Even if not talking about what ever goes on with me doesn’t make things better, it’s not going to make things better. It’s like I’m… I’m going down this road full of doubts, and they grow in a pile that keeps growing and growing, each one more numbing than the last, until I just…” collapse under it. Evie looked down at her nails, wondering how she could even begin to talk about it. She realised now she couldn’t avoid it, not any longer, but it still felt awful to say, selfish to talk about. The idea of keep messing things up was already unbearable, but she didn’t know if she could talk about her other issues, how she seems to prepare herself to fail, the nightmares that constantly remind her of all those horrible things, all of it. Suddenly, she didn’t want to talk about it anymore, didn’t want to burden Zac with anymore than she already has, couldn’t even want to look at him. He didn’t want to hear any of her problems, she had been convinced of that before. Then she heard Zac’s voice break through, soft but firm. “Just take things at your own pace, and when you feel ready, no matter what you want to talk about, I’ll be here for you.” No he won’t, he’ll grow tired of you, you’re too much for anyone to handle. Her eyes hardened and she turned away on her back, ignoring the pains on her back the simple movement gave her. “No, you don’t want that. You have better things to do with your time than listening to me and you know it.” “I do want that, and I don’t have better things to do,” Zac said, ignoring the pan of hurt inside him at how she doubted him. He could understand why she would feel uncertainty, even to that point, but it didn’t make things any easier. “Right now, nothing’s more important than you. You and your health are never a burden to me, Evie, I promise that looking after you is something that I will always want to do 100%.” How Zac was able to see through her half-conviction (leaning more on a quarter-conviction) and was just so damn nice, Evie couldn’t even begin to comprehend. “Why? The only thing I’ve done is made things more difficult for you. I don’t make anything better for anyone, and after everything… after everything you’ve done, I couldn’t give any of it back…I… I didn’t want you to worry, but I still did. I saw how concerned and frustrated you looked the entire time, and… I wanted to make things better, I thought I would just be making things worse if I exposed you to everything going on…” Evie broke herself off by giving a bitter chuckle. “And even now, I am justifying myself. I… I’m not sure I was doing the right thing…I could never be sure… yet I did it anyway.. I thought you’d be better off anyway, but I… I didn’t realise how much I was making things worse…” She had to try and make it look like she was right. That was why she didn’t try to defend herself whenever the old her would have. She remembered the times she and Matt argued over Josh. She knew Matt wasn’t trying to be spiteful or hurtful, but he didn’t understand, and the old her would have been argued more insistent. However, after everything she did (or maybe, everything that she thought she did), she no longer felt she had that right to defend herself, no longer felt like being indignant. Zac sighed. He needed to approach this carefully. Evie wasn’t wrong, the way she handled it didn’t do anything to fix things, but he also knew that she wasn’t trying to hurt him, that she honestly thought that it would have paid off in the end- maybe not for herself, but still. Evie had a protective streak a mile long and while it was one of her best qualities, it can also make it very difficult for her to forget or forgive the past or see the logic past her feelings. Zac had to wonder whether or not if Evie had ever confronted her own past before, all the decisions she made, the good and bad. There was probably a lot that was clouding her judgement from before, leading her perspective on certain things astray and he doubted she ever talked to anyone about it. Still, he had to focus on the present. He knew what he needed to get across here- that what Evie did wasn’t okay, that he still wished she had come to him, but that didn’t mean she didn’t deserve to be helped. It was the same mistake countless of other people around the world had made, and he knew she can make the right choices, as long as her mind was in the right place, and wasn't swayed by guilt or self-loathing. Besides, he didn’t want her to think any more worse of herself. “You needed to hold onto it, I get it. You needed some way to makes sense and make it worth it. But Evie, you don’t have to. You never had to.” “It doesn’t change how I messed things up!” “You’re not the only one, though,” Zac insisted. Before he would have felt frustrated that his words weren’t making any impact with her- actually, he knew that he still felt that frustration, but at least now he could answer why she couldn’t, or wouldn’t (Zac wasn’t comfortable labelling either one as the definite answer). Whether she recognised it or not, it must be difficult for her to accept anything positive right now. He thought that the last time she would have ever felt at ease would have been the day of explosion, the day where the rug was pulled from everyone’s feet. Even though that day no longer haunted Zac as much as it has, he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t ever confronted by the horror of it all. Roo, Chris… even Maddy, whom Roo told him that was getting better every day at her rehab (though she also admitted to Roo there were still moments where she felt unbearably lonely, and she wished she could talk to Evie more), to this day they weren't fully over it, they may never be fully over it. It was the same with Evie, but she had held herself back for too long. She seen them all try and recover, she had to see that she can do the same. “Evie, no one is going to do everything in life perfect, and no one goes through life without ever having fights or arguments with the people they care about. Me and Leah… we have our arguments, we got to bed angry at one another from time to time. Does that mean we ought to shut ourselves away from the other?” “No,” Evie was forced to admit, thinking Zac still didn’t get the point, “but you make Leah’s life good and she does for your life as well. But me… me…” “You don’t think you bring joy into my life?” Zac asked, though he felt it was more of a confirmation of her words. “Well, don’t I?” Evie asked bitterly. “All the times I made things more difficult for everyone around me… it’s all too much. You… you have a wife who loves you, VJ’s practically your son (Evie notices how this makes Zac wince and she didn’t think about it and she knows why he would, but she can’t stop), you have what you need. You don’t need me messing up your life, not when I’m the reason that family isn’t bigger, I shouldn’t… I shouldn’t be wasting your time, I should have just stayed far away-” “When are you going to realise that’s not just your decision to make?!” Zac insisted, his voice unintentionally raising and sounding more upset that he knew that he was, at how frantic and intense Evie’s own voice sounded. What also frayed at his nerves was how even now, she still believed she did something to cause Oscar and Hannah’s deaths. He knew it wasn’t something that wasn’t going to be solved in one day, or one week, but it still pained him to hear it. “Evie… you never have been, and you never will be, an imposition on my life. You are not a burden. Having you and Oscar… it gave me the chance of having a family I never thought I was going to get.” He hadn’t spoken to Ethan ever since they fell apart all those years ago… God, Zac still felt it incredible that all those years growing up, now just distant memories that just reminded Zac how bitter things were the last time they saw each other. When Hannah came to him, telling him that Sarah (a woman whom Zac, in his young jealousy, thought was too good for his brother) had died and Evie and Oscar were in danger, the only thing Zac could focus on was getting them to safety. It was only after they bought the farmhouse from Dr Walker, did Zac begin to actually accept the new reality of a family, a real family. Seeing the twins as happy as they were back then, so determined to regain the normality that was their lives even without their parents, filled Zac with a pride so unfamiliar that it took him several hours that it was like fatherly pride. He knew he could never replace Ethan for the first fifteen years of their lives (no matter what he turned out in the end, Ethan had done everything a father ought to and Zac, despite their differences, had no wish to take those memories away from Evie and Oscar), he could do what he could. “And even though… things fell apart rather quickly, me regaining that family, with Leah and VJ, with you…and Oscar… Just seeing you walk down the steps to go to breakfast, come home at the end of the day… talk to me about your day. I don’t need anything big or dramatic, I was just glad of the knowledge that you’re there. Even when days get hard, knowing you were all there… helped me in more ways I ever knew possible. And before… even before you lost that drive, you were still dedicated, Evie, you still walked down those steps to see us. I haven’t forgotten that.” “That isn’t enough,” Evie insisted, her voice dropped to a low mutter. “I haven’t done enough.” “You have, you tried. Why I…” Zac sighed, before continuing in a solemn voice, “Why I was frustrated at you… it was because I didn’t want to ignore what I was seeing and pretending everything was fine. Because from first-hand experience, I knew that won’t ever work. I wanted to talk about it so we could get past it, But I realise now I should have explained things a lot better, or seen things from beyond my own perspective.” “I don’t… you shouldn’t blame yourself, this wasn’t your fault,” Evie told him. That was the thing, no matter what, she didn’t want to make him feel bad. That was the thing, no matter what mistakes him or Matt made, she didn’t want to hold it against them. Maybe it was because of her own guilt, but she didn’t want to be angry at them, didn’t want any negative feelings towards them. Nadia’s words echoed back to her, about loving them so much that she couldn’t stay away, and she realised that. After what happened to so many people before… she found it hard to stay angry at who was left. “I… I kept all of it from you… and I don’t know even why… and I spent the whole time wallowing in misery…” “You weren’t before,” Zac replied. While he didn’t care much for how she put it, he knew what she meant. “Before, even after Josh left… you were trying to actually keep your life together. You were trying to look after me, and Leah, and VJ and… it looked like you actually wanted to get past all that had happened.” Evie sighed herself, remembering that time. Remembering how hopeful she felt at how she could try and make things right. Frankly, it wasn’t much hope, but compared to what she had been feeling for so long, it was better than nothing. “I… I still felt… this thing in me. It was always there, even when I was trying. I just thought if I could make things better… I could keep it down, even make it go away.” After considering a bit more, she added wistfully, still amazed at herself for not breaking down, “But maybe that was the problem. I wanted to do it for you guys, but I… I hated those thoughts were there in the first place. I hated waking up, knowing it was there. But…it felt so selfish to think about it, I didn’t want to think about it affecting me, but I didn’t want it to affect any of you either…” “You would have been able to do both,” Zac offered, knowing where she was coming from at least. “It isn’t wrong to want to get rid of those bad thoughts, Evie. It’s the most natural thing in the world to do. And I know that you trying not to hurt us, I know that.” He had more to say, but there was something in Evie’s eyes, something that looked like a frantic desperation to get more of it out, all the while struggling with the appeal whether to do so or not. “You fought at the beginning to remain positive, and you had more strength than a lot of other people would have in your situation, but you could have still come to me, you could have still asked for help. It is not weak or cowardly to do so, these things can’t be done alone, not by anyone.” “I tried not to… I tried not to… I don’t know, affect you with all this negativity inside me… I didn’t want to be so negative on the outside, because you didn’t deserve it… even when I ended up spilling it all out… you didn’t deserve it, I knew that. But I ended up doing it anyway.” “Would you be able to tell me why things changed?” Evie bit the inside of her cheek irritatingly. This wasn’t important, not really, she couldn’t convince herself of that. She didn’t even knew if she wanted to or not, because she could still be guilty. As far as she was concerned, her letting Oscar die without even trying to save him, no matter what Nadia insisted, remained heavily in her heart. He would have done anything for her, and she for him… except when it mattered the most, she didn’t. Subconsciously, her left hand reached up and clenched tightly against the back of her hair, her right hand clenching against her thigh as if digging deep into the flesh there. Her arms were becoming sweaty and uncomfortably hot, her insides burning, and the need for her scissors, the need to cut, was growing and growing and growing… “I don’t know… it all became too much… it was as if I didn’t have a right to be happy and I was just… all this time pretending to be… and I became more convinced that it was my fault… all of it… I ruined everything, and… it felt like I was tricking everyone pretending to be some bubble of happiness… but I was thinking more and more that…that you were right… that the stuff going on with me, was more… serious than I wanted to believe it was… so I… I guessed I kept it far below so it wouldn’t be there…the nightmares, the constant panic and fear…” “Evie…” Zac started before shaking his head. “That kind of thinking…that ‘out of sight and out of mind’ mentality isn’t healthy. It wasn’t good to think that, and it’s not good to let that dictate your life. You’ve… you’ve been holding onto it, and it’s affected your work, your relationships… you understand that, right?” Evie pulled at the hair on the nape of her neck, not even wincing though she pulled hard at the strands. “I guess,” she said coldly, more coldly than she intended. Maybe she thought that the more ice in her voice, the better off Zac was in the long run. What did that say about her? Zac watched her intently, not liking how her face turned in on itself, the hard gaze, melting into a conflicted gaze, froze up again. “What else was there, what else convinced you to do that?” “I… I just didn’t care,” Evie admitted, her voice turning more resignedly than cold or bitter. “I was alive… it didn’t matter what I did, none of it was important, none of it changed anything… my health didn’t matter as much as it did before… I had nothing left but those thoughts, but I needed it…” “Why?” Zac asked, wondering how a person could convince themselves that they would need pressure like that in their life. Evie shrugged, no longer looking at Zac, as if that was too difficult to do so. “I guess… I never felt this before. I’ve… I’ve felt uncertain before, I’ve been angry at myself before…but… it was never this intense… it never… felt this much before…” Evie shook her head, “I’ve spent so much of my life, not doubting myself, always so damn sure… and… I’ve made so many mistakes, I just… I thought I needed to change, I had to listen to it… just so filled with mistakes…” “It wasn’t just all mistakes, Evie,” Zac assured her. “I can remember how you comforted me after Hunter was arrested. I remember how you stood by me in that courthouse, holding my hand. I remember how, even when it didn’t seem the right time to do so, you encouraged me and Leah to get married, you gave us Denny’s gift. You tried to be a good friend to Matt and VJ and Billie, even when-” “Zac, that’s not all,” Evie interjected, her face growing more grey by the second. “We can’t just ignore all the crap I’ve done before.” And shouldn’t that be the most important thing? Does a bad act outweigh the good, or the good the bad? “I never said that. I remember it just as much as you can. You have your own flaws, same as me. Same as every other person who lives or has ever lived. We may not like it, we may like to pretend otherwise, but it's still true. But that doesn’t change how much of a good person you have been as well. It won’t do you any good to forget the mistakes you've made in the past, but you can learn from them.” “But what if there is no learning from it? What if I just end up making up the same mistakes again and again, and it’s you who ends up getting hurt?” “You don’t know that will happen-” “And neither do you! You don’t know that it won’t happen! You- you can’t know. There’s… there’s a risk being around me… everyone around me gets screwed up eventually one way or another! I… I didn’t stop any of it, I didn’t save Oscar or Hannah…” Evie had to pause to cough, her voice remaining a weak, hazily voice. She knew she was rambling, but she felt she was actually talking about how she felt, and it felt… she didn’t have time to think about how it felt. “I ruined things the moment I brought Tank into everyone’s lives and the pain that ought to be mine was everyone’ else’s-” “Evie, that doesn’t make what happened your fault! There was nothing you can do, and it doesn’t help you to not realise that it was just… rotten luck. Please, understand that it was beyond your control, it’s was beyond my control, any of our control.” Zac had to calm his voice, which had rising in his urgency. “Evie, did Nadia talk to you about that connecting those events together… it isn’t logical thinking, Evie, you did nothing to cause it directly-” “So what if I didn’t?” Evie asked scornfully, her voice now louder than it has been before, though not without effort and looking up at the ceiling as if asking for guidance from some unseen, stronger power, but with so much anger in her eyes. “That changes nothing… I… there… there was nothing I did when it really mattered, just like all the other times! I’m the one common factor in everything that went wrong, the only… I don’t know, part of the equation that can take the fault! Tell me, Zac, how am I not suppose to think otherwise? Do you think I want to believe that it was my fault?! That I wanted to know my own family died because of me? I didn’t want to wake up with that reminder in my head, but… but I had to. I didn’t want to forget any of it, because if I could… if I could forget any of it… it’d be irresponsible, it’d be cowardly. That is not something I should even try to ignore if I did something… so incredibly wrong… something that killed the people that mattered so much to me… people that had so much more to enjoy in life, and I was still here… the damn girl who messed things up, the girl who cares only about herself, the girl who let her boyfriend literally get away with murder!” Tears were gathering in her eyes, but she refused to let herself cry. She can’t cry, not now, not ever. She just realised she hadn’t cried since Josh left. She shed tears, but nothing like all out sobbing. Taking a deep breath, her voice a lot lower than before lifting her head, battling the thundering, the heat and the grief by looking directly at Zac again after spending so much time looking away at him. His face was pained but she needed to explain. “I couldn’t help… I couldn’t protect anyone… and I knew if I avoided it, this thing that caused damage wherever I go was going to come back, and it was going to hurt you… I could hardly live with myself knowing I failed Oscar, I couldn’t stand the idea of anything bad happening to any of you because of what I wanted. People like me don’t get to have good things in their lives, don’t deserve how much effort you try and put in for me, when even you must be tiring of it, the whole time.” She drew her knees up to her chest, and tried to bury her head in between them in an effort not to throw up. Zac was at a loss for words. He now knew more than he did before, no matter how much he hated it. He realised that if Evie felt it was her fault, it would only encourage her to push herself away, if she actually thought herself as a threat. She wouldn’t let herself hurt her own family. He also took note of her words: didn’t, rather than couldn’t. There was a wide range of difference between those two words, and using only showed Evie’s self-guilt even further. Hearing her talk about failing Oscar… knowing how much he meant to her, it was difficult to hear it. He also got why she saw no point in her life, despite he still being here. He may love Evie, and she may love him back, but no one could fill that Oscar-shaped whole in her life. He knew his job wasn’t done even if she convinced that she didn’t do anything to cause it. Because that pain of not being able to do anything when disaster strikes won’t ever go away. All he could do was make it easier for her to live with. But… he couldn’t handle how she completely disregarded any attempt to help her, or her own life. Even if it seemed unfair, even if it was hard, she still had the chance of life. He needed to make her see why it was important. “Evie… those moments you talked about before.. those moments when you feel trapped and the only way out is to… is to commit suicide… were you thinking about us? Me, Leah, Matt?” Evie’s face furrowed, as if she was trying to recall. When she answered, her voice had shrunk down to that monotone, weary, voice. “…Yes. I was thinking that you guys wouldn’t have to worry about me anymore.” Worrying about her. As if she were a problem. As if she were a burden. Which was how Evie saw herself as. Zac couldn’t let this go on. He cupped his hand to Evie’s cheek, which was freezing.” “I’d rather spend years worrying about you than live for one day without you. You can’t ask me to stand by and let you do this to yourself. “ Of course, he knew she would try and get away so he wouldn’t. He can’t let that happen either. “Why? Why is it so important to you?” Evie asked without thinking. As soon as her own question echoed in her ears, her eyes widened in shock because she knew why it was, and how it hurt. “Because it’s my loss as well. It’s ours to share.” Zac said, his voice straining from the weariness in it. He realised now, this was actually the first time he was actually talking to her about Oscar and Hannah, about their loss and their shared grief. He never did before, because he was afraid to talk about it, unsure of how to even talk about it with the one person who was feeling ten times his own pain. “It could have easily happened to you, and you could have been lost. And now… you’re asking me to leave you to suffer alone.” Evie wanted to interrupt, to tell him that was what he should, that the fact that he had his own grief that he ought to leave her alone, so he didn’t have to worry about her, but Zac had his own look of urgent need to talk, and Evie let him. “You have to listen to me now, okay? This doesn’t make you a bad person, the fact that you were afraid of hurting me or anyone else doesn’t make you a bad person… but I know some things from my previous work. I’ve worked with people who thought they had nothing ahead of them, and while I’m not as… knowledgeable of the human mind like Nadia would be, I’ve done my best to talk them out of that hole they got into.” To be fair, often enough, the people he dealt with had gotten themselves into this hole, but this case was more complicated, and not just because of their relation. Evie had tried to keep herself out of the hole, and the circumstances were not as such that she brought upon herself… but as soon as she began doubting her intentions, she lost her footing and fell down. “It’s not the same thing,” Evie insisted. Zac did what he did to save people. Staying by her wasn’t going to save anyone. “Yes, yes it is. That is exactly what this is.” Zac stood up, and began pacing behind the chair he had sat down in. “This is about you fighting those memories, it’s about you fighting your inner demons.” “So, what, just talk about it, and bam- I’m cured?” Evie asked, her voice a flat one but filled to the brin with sarcasm. “You telling me Nate or Tori is going to waltz in here with some… medicine and the cure for depression?” She gave a sigh that was probably meant to be an attempt of a laugh, which still made clear of what she thought about that. “Of course not,” Zac said, knowing that she didn’t mean it. This was one of the few times he ever saw her use sarcasm in such a way, he couldn’t help but wonder how long she had held in that desire to be bitter before. “Depression isn’t something you can cure. I can’t promise you that you won’t ever feel it again, I know better than that, but…” he gritted his teeth and sat down again, looking earnestly at Evie while butterflies danced in his stomach. “When I was in prison, I… I stood against the wrong people who were trying to hurt people who had nothing to do with them. They… they…” He bit his lip as the harsh memories came flooding back. Somedays it was still hard to believe he actually got out. The fact was that despite all the stories and horrific descriptions shown in the movies, prison wasn’t as violent as most people would believe. The assaults… they had happened, despite the attempts to make them stop, and it remained a problem that had to be addressed (Even if a number of people would prefer to pretend it never happens) but he knew from his history that it didn’t occur as often as many thought, and the few times when it had occurred in maximum security prisons. At the place he was, a federal minimum security on bail (Though had he been brought to trial and found guilty, he would have found himself in a maximum security prison), it was a rarity that occurred. And he had stood up at the single time he did see it. “They attacked you,” Evie said, her voice trying hard not to shake at the bleak words. She knew something that happened when Zac was in prison, something that caused Tank to save him, but she didn’t know precisely what happened. She never asked before. Zac nodded. He didn’t feel comfortable reminiscing about it, but talking about was just as important when he first talked about it to Leah, and Nadia as well. It had been Nadia whom he had contacted when he realised he needed someone of experience to talk to about (in fact, he hadn’t told Leah that he contacted Nadia). Evie had shared something that was incredibly sensitive for her, the least he could do was give her the same curtsy. To do the very thing he had been encouraging her so long could hopefully push her in the right direction. If he wanted her to trust him, he had to trust her. However, he didn’t want to bring her more pain of telling her of the brutal details of what happened that night, because given how she felt she could have stopped Josh, hearing him suffering may make her feel worse. “They… they came into my cell, and…” He looked back to her, incredibly hesitant. Sensing this, Evie reached out with her hand (which was previously gripping her knees) and held onto his. “You shouldn’t talk about it, not if you don’t want to.” “I just… it’s just difficult to talk about. I think I understand what you meant before,” he admitted. He was just glad that Hunter wouldn’t have to experience the potential nightmare in of a maximum security prison. Because of his age and his guilty plea to all charges, he was sentence to a minimum security prison that was more focused on rehabilitation and understanding where they have gone wrong. Zac knew a couple of people there who worked there and ensured Hunter would keep out of fights (which, Zac thought despairingly, was the thing he was certain would happen with Hunter) “Besides, I know you blame yourself for not stopping Josh, I don’t want to tell you this and make things…” “Worse?” Evie asked, before shaking her head sadly. He didn’t need to protect her. Even if she was worth it, she could have a good idea of what had happened. She wasn’t some kid that needed to be sheltered from the harsh reality of the world. It wasn’t the most horrific thing that could occur there, she heard enough about prison to know what could occur there and no one deserved that, least of all Zac, as rare as it probably was, but she knew it was still very bad. “I’m going to blame myself either way, Zac. If you… if you don’t want to continue, then I won’t make you, but...” she herself hesitated, not sure if she should prod into something that was very sensitive. “If you want to, I’ll listen.” Zac sighed and with a deep breath, struck at how the table has turned, and yet, her telling him he didn’t have to seemed to have the other effect. He admired how steady and strong she sounded. “They…they held me down and one, the leader, the one I personally confronted me, he attacked me with a knife… he certainly made sure I remembered him.” He couldn’t describe any more than that, and Evie, who knew what that was like more than a lot of other people, didn’t say anymore. She tried to hide it, but Zac can see how horrified she felt at the descriptions. “I know what it’s like to be wrecked by stuff that haunt you, and thinking there would be no way out. I don’t want that to happen to you. Don’t ask me to leave you like that.” Zac laid his hand on Evie’s knee, and Evie stared down at his hand with something mirroring wonder, the horror she felt remaining at how much Zac suffered there. She always felt that she was always failing when it came to explaining what was up with her (When she felt like doing so, anyway), because she wasn’t making enough effort to explain whatever was wrong with her (Not wrong, a gentle voice that sounded like a mixture of herself and Nadia, just something you have to deal with) for her own selfish reasons. But seeing Zac explain his own traumatic experience, realising her problem, while still difficult, may not be as impossible to explain as she thought. Well, that problem at least. “I… I’m so sorry, Zac, I…” “I got out, that’s what matters,” Zac told her, something he had said not long ago. “And I can help you get out as well. It is not selfish to be afraid of showing your vulnerabilities, and it's not selfish to show them either. You deserve those good things, Evie.” “I shouldn’t,” Evie retorted, trying to sound firm but it came out barely above a whisper. Zac sighed, sounding just as convinced of Evie’s words as Evie herself was. “This isn’t a rare situation, you know. Thousands of men and women across the world suffer from depression, they all have to find their own way to live with it, and every person who’s ever loved someone with or depression has to acknowledge that.” “Doesn’t make it okay for me to do the same though, I’m…” Evie faltered, not sure what she was exactly? All the usual words came into her head, but only two Evie felt really summed her up. “I'm dangerous, I'm awful." She couldn’t bare to watch Zac react to her words. She covered her face with her hands wishing she could just disappear. Zac reached out, covering her hands with his own and pulled them away from Evie’s face. She deserved so much better than to be thinking any of this, but he can't deny that she believed them. He won't demean her believes, not when she says them with such sincerity. “Do you trust me?” “Of… of course I trust you. I trust you with my life.” Evie said, her voice gone incredibly heartfelt. Deep down, she was conflicted. She trusted Zac to do the right thing, no matter who it’s for (remembering Nadia’s words of how mental health is not restricted to anyone), and despite the little regard for her own life, she still trusted him a lot. “That wasn’t what I meant.” A sad smile tugged at the corner of Zac’s lips, and Evie felt more confused, not seeing where he was going with this, with trust. What did that have to do with anything? “I know things are terrible right now, and I know you're afraid of hurting me. I know that won’t change, not for a very long time, if ever. I want to trust you, I have to trust you, if we’re going to fight this. But I need you to trust me as well: trust that I know what I want to do and that… well, I may not know everything, but I know enough, and what I don’t I’m willing to learn. And the same for Leah… she’s a smart woman, and knows what she wants to do as well. Us trying to help you does not come from ignorance, please trust me on that. And you are right. I don’t know that things will be alright or that nothing bad will happen, despite our best efforts. Life is too unpredictable for that. But that doesn’t mean we have to shut ourselves away. All it means is that we all ought to spend as much time as we can, holding onto every moment that gives us joy, and doing what we can for each other and ourselves.” That was the philosophy he stood with. Even though it was a struggle every single day, he tried to remember Oscar and Hannah everyday, remember every cherished moment he had with them. He so wished for Evie to be able to do the same, for her own sake just as much as the memories of Oscar and Hannah. “And that…” Evie wasn’t sure if she could agree, even though what Zac said made a lot of sense. “And that wouldn’t be selfish?” That she felt like she had to ask broke Zac’s heart. “Evie, you are one of the most driven people I know. You've been trying so hard. If you would keep doing that, and try and understand what you want and nor what others want you to do, in spite of all, it would one of the most bravest things I’ve ever seen.” Evie felt a lot of information was being thrown at her, and she wished she could make sense out of it. Because on one side, she had her critic screaming at her of how selfish she was for even considering this, considering doing things just for herself, but the other side was saying listening to Zac. She knew life was too unpredictable, she had made that same argument with Matt not long ago… but she realised what Zac meant. That it meant giving to life, not shutting it away. She did that same thing because she saw no point in her life, it wasn’t worth living anyway. A large part of her was still convinced of that… but Zac was here now, giving her a chance, should she take it? Evie also reflected on what Zac said before, asking- not telling- her to trust him that he knew what he was doing when wanting to ask her for help. She was beginning to think that the strain of thought that had been ingrained in her by her self-doubt and hate and- trauma, exactly what Nadia called it- was astray, and therefore, could led her own perspective- on certain things- astray. She didn’t know for sure, she was conflicted about that as well, but she had spent so much time worrying about her own desires blinding everything. Who is to say that the opposite cannot happen- that a belief in the worst in yourself and the future could blind you just as easily. She didn’t know what to believe, or which one was more easier to believe, which she wished to avoid. But knowing the possibility didn’t automatically clear things for her, and it didn’t remove the apprehensive feeling of danger that lurked in her mind. For all she knew, the moment she decided to let Zac in, she could be leading him to danger. She couldn’t do that, she had to keep him- What? Keep him at arm’s length? She was no longer convinced that would even work, because despite her attempts to do so, Zac remained steadfast in trying to help her. She told herself before that it was because he felt he had no choice, that she made him do it, but however, hasn’t she already been telling herself that everyone has their limits? Why would Zac constantly be pushing past his? She knew that Zac and Leah were smart people, but she thought it was because she didn’t explain it anymore. And she knew that she wasn’t wrong that Zac didn’t know everything, and she knew that their constant worry wasn’t doing anyone any good, she feared she had to tell them that eventually but she shouldn’t be doubting his intent. Especially since her own doubt over everything. The doubt meant that she doubted her own family’s wishes, but then, if she doubted everything, she asked herself, in a logical voice (one she had not heard in a long time), how would she be so sure? “I… I couldn’t believe you when you were trying with me. Even you said you loved me and tried to get me to stay… I didn’t believe it. And it wasn’t because of anything you did…” “I could have done more though,” Zac admitted, ashen-faced. “I should have understood more or I made my feelings a lot clearer, so you wouldn’t have to…” “I would have still thought it. It wasn’t because of any failing on your part, I would have still thought it. I thought… I thought you were all just being forced to do it, that I was so horrible that it was impossible for anyone to actually willingly spend time with me. That you were just doing it… it because you’re too nice like that,” Evie finished, breath hitching, aware she would just be able to complete only like, maybe two or three more sentences before she gave in to the tears. Zac didn’t say anything for a while, and Evie immediately thought the worse, that that damn voice in her head was right, that Zac would confirm it and leave, that the voice was right, that Zac was right to leave her- but when Evie looked up at him, she saw tears glistening in Zac’s eyes, an impossibly sad look on his face. “I…I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything, it was stupid, it’s not important, it’s only upsetting you.” Evie internally cursed herself for saying sorry, remembering what she had been constantly telling herself, saying sorry doesn’t solve anything, it doesn’t automatically mean she won’t do it again or she’ll do better. It was just the same thing everything says over and over again by people who want to make themselves feel better… “No it’s okay, Evie, it’s important. You’re important. Everything you’re feeling is important, everything you’re feeling is not stupid.” Of that Zac was sure of it. He even understood that Evie had a point. After everything that happened, she had good reason not to be sure of everything. She certainly wouldn’t accept anything immediately. After everything these past few years, Evie would have learned not to accept things at face-value. As much as they loved her, they can’t expect any different for them. “I… yeah, I’m upset of hearing that, but not at you, I’m upset that things have gotten so hard for you. I’d prefer hearing it all the same. It’s what I truly want, despite how hard it is.” “Because the easy way won’t help anyone,” Evie reflected. It is what she had thought all this time, and at least she thought that was right at least. It would be easy to accept that she deserve love, that she didn’t deserve to rot. “That was what you’ve been saying this whole time, haven’t you?”, Zac said, realising more of Evie’s perspective. “I don’t want you to be double-guessing yourself, I know it’s all… extremely complicated. But I understand what you’ve meant that it would be too easy for you to believe anything we tell you. But maybe… do you think that maybe it would be too easy to give in to that feeling of self-hate?” “Maybe,” Evie admitted. “But after everything that happened, I had to wonder if that was why so much bad stuff had happened… and none of it to me. That’s the thing, I got through it all unscathed, even after all the mistakes I've made. So, I thought I had to change, I had to make myself better than before.” “I get it, I know growing, wanting to try and make ourselves better than before, but this isn’t something we force. We can’t be perfect, we can’t force ourselves to be better, and more importantly, it is not something we do alone. I couldn’t make myself into the man I am right now. I needed guidance of friends, of people who weren’t me to share their view of who I am, and who I could be. It is very good for you to be sure of yourself, Evie, it’s something we all need, to be able to make our own decisions. Too much of self-assurance is bad and you need to be careful of that, but too little of it is just as worse.” He left Evie think about that, and then added, “And it did happen to you.” “What did?” “All of that bad stuff, it has happened to you. You may not have been injured or… or killed,” Zac said, seeing no point in hiding the harsh truth when they both knew it. “… but it all still affected you. You would have to be emotionless for none of what happened, this year or before, to not affect you. Am I wrong?” “No, you’re not, but I still got off lucky than a lot of others,” Evie told him, but with little fire. “Maybe. Doesn’t change how much you’ve been hurting. How much of all of this has affected you. How things got so bad that you thought this was the only way out.” Evie didn’t address that, because she felt it was still wrong to think about that, of how much she had suffered, because it didn’t seem as important as others have. But she didn’t think she could avoid it. What she said instead was, “I… I’ve been having panic attacks. I…sometimes it gets too much and my senses overload, and I can't breath and my… all of me just shuts down.” It was all she could describe but thankfully Zac didn’t push beyond that description. From the look in his eyes, she (Despite misgiving about not being specific enough) could tell that he got it. However, Evie doubted she’d be able to keep it in for very long. Just the overwhelming feelings of her panic attacks, they were eating away at her on the inside, and they weren’t the only things. All of her rage, her grief, her shame, the horrific details in her nightmares and her own self-harm (with that nagging desire to cut again burning within her), were all bubbling together like a chemical reaction gone bad. All of it fumed while she felt something new: the growing desire to speak about all of it, to spill it all over the place…but she didn’t. Trembling inside and feeling sick at the thought of them, they kept boiling but not raging, it all kept itself away. “And did it happen last night?” Evie grimaced at the question and looked down, not able to answer. Zac chewed on his own lip but let it go. She won’t tell him everything that is going on, he could guess that there was more going on than what she was telling him, but he’ll have to learn to accept it. “How long have you’ve have them?” Evie shrugged. “I guess… for the past few months. They only got more extreme as time went on, but I didn’t tell anyone. “Evie, it is important you talk about these things, you needed to address all of this a long time ago.” He wasn’t trying to shame her, but he needed to be honest with her. That she was experiencing panic attacks was extremely important information, and he can’t coddle the fact that she didn’t tell him or anyone wasn’t good. The idea of her having one in a crowded place (and therefore could not get to a safe place) implanted itself forcibly on his mind and he can't let that happen to her. “Evie, you tell me that you wanted to be better, that you wanted to do things right. You can’t do that unless you accept that what is going on with you is a problem to be dealt with, rather than ignoring it and hoping you can just get pass it. That isn't healthy. It'll only make things worse for yourself and the people around you.” Sitting down again, he added, “I’m not trying to make you feel worse, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea here. You are a lot more capable than you think. Holding yourself back like that in a way to punish yourself is not going to help me or anyone else, and…” it won’t make things better for yourself, is what Zac would normally finish with, but he had caught on Evie didn’t care about that in particular. For all he knew, that maybe acted as an incentive for her to keep holding it all in. “You understand that keeping this stuff to yourself, especially when you are given a task such as teaching, isn’t good?” “Yeah, I get it, it wasn’t… responsible,” Evie said impassively. At least she didn’t try and hide it, Zac could tell she could recognise that easily, at least. “It doesn't minimize how hard you've been trying or the good work you have done, you have been doing so well... but you have so much more that you can do than you've already been doing, and you can only do that with your health intact. Otherwise you'll won't be focused or able to do the job I know you'd be excellent at. Teaching is one of the biggest responsibilities in the world of profession and we owe it to our student to be at our best professional capacity and it has to be the same for you. We didn't hold back on your work because we think you're hopeless at the job by nature, it's because we are aware that you have to address the emotional burdens you have before you are able to handle the important stuff and I didn't want to, and still won't, put any more pressure on you. We should have both prepared for that from the start, but we can start again. I know from personal experience that letting people in may not make things go away, but it makes things a bit more manageable. I know all of this is terrifying, and I know you're afraid of letting me see this, but you don’t have to hide any of it from me.” Evie knew he was right, she had been trying to take two roads at the same time, trying to do the work yet keeping it all hidden. It was impossible to do so. At times (not all the time but at times) her work had suffered, whether she was in class or assisting. “I think… I know you want me back out the house, but… I don’t think I feel comfortable going back there, at least not yet. But… I’ll want to see more of you, I can come around often.” “As much as you want to,” Zac told her, getting her need not jump back to things the way they were, as much as they would all want to. "Whatever makes you feel more comfortable." “I wasn’t trying to hurt you, Zac. I know it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t change anything, but…” “I know you weren’t. This wasn’t about me. I know you didn’t do anything with the intent of making things any more difficult.” “Not that really matters, does it? It doesn’t change anything I did before. As long as I’m even being honest about what I meant to do.” “Maybe. But that just means there are better ways you can still do good than before. That you meant well in the first place can give you a head start on that front at least. And to me, I think that you’re worried about it being for the right reasons speaks volumes. What do you think?” Zac prompted gently and inquisitively. He and Leah came to the conclusion that if this was going to work, then they needed to talk and debate about everything bothering Evie with her. He needed to treat Evie like an equal and accept her viewpoint, and she did make some really sensible points. “I…” Evie felt the tears growing in her eyes, clouding up her vision and her breath was hitching but that didn’t stop her talking. “I… I really wanted to make it up to you guys, wanted to do right by you guys, you’ve done so much for me. You and Leah… you’ve given me a home, a family, and I wanted to do my bit… I wanted to be nice, generous, smarter, I really did, I wanted to be, I didn't want to be horrible, I didn't want to be angry, especially not at you, I wanted to be all those good things and I wanted to share them with you and-”, her lips were trembling so hard it was difficult to get it all out, and she didn’t know if Zac could understand her, she didn’t know if she understood herself, but she meant them and even though maybe it didn’t matter she wanted Zac to understand and- And it all broke. Zac watched the change on her face. At first, there was a sound that was a disbelieving half-laugh, half-sob, followed by a range of emotions entering and leaving Evie’s face- bitterness, embarrassment, hesitance, a slimmer of longing, a brief but valiant attempt to keep her face straight and consuming guilt- before her face crumples and her composure shatters completely. Broken, hopeless sobs escaped from her mouth and made her entire body jerk at the force of them. It twisted her face with pure despair. It felt as though two months and three weeks’ worth of tears flow down her cheeks and onto the bed and in her hair that was flowing uncontrollably into her face. She must be so pathetic, so worthless, and even now she was just waiting for them to tell her so--- “Evie? Is it okay that I hug you?” Evie felt that it was nothing short of a wonder that she heard that through her sobs, and she knows she shouldn’t apply with an affirmative, she did not deserve something as simple as a hug, she didn’t deserve his love, she didn’t deserve any of their love- “Yes.” It came out as a whimper of a word, but Zac brought his hand up to Evie’s hair, softly cradling her head and pulling him to his chest. Evie continued to sob hard into Zac’s jacket, feeling awful but she couldn’t stop it, she hated herself, but she couldn’t stop it now that she started. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” She felt a gentle hand stroking her hair as her hands wrapped themselves around Zac’s back and squeezed tightly. It’s been ages since she’s been held like that, and she can’t deny how good it felt. “I’m sorry for how I acted…” “It’s okay, I know,” Zac soothed. Evie’s head was now tucked under his chin, cheek pressed against his neck. “It’s alright now, you’re forgiven.” Evie shook her head. “Oscar…” she sobbed in unsteady breathes, “I let him down… he’s gone and he’s never coming back…” “It wasn’t your fault,” Zac replied, tears falling from his own eyes now. He held his niece close, cradling her as close as he can, but did nothing to stop her crying. Evie needed this, needed to let it out. There was more courage in showing tears than hiding them. “Don’t think for one moment either him or Hannah would have been better off if you weren’t in their lives. You are not cursed, you did not cause what happened to them, they loved you, you loved them.” “I was so horrible, I was awful…” “No, you weren't,” Zac interrupted her with steely resolve, drawing Evie’s heartbeat down with a hand brushing down her shoulder blade. “You were hurting, you’re hurting.” Zac closed his eyes and squeezed Evie closer, careful not to hurt her. Evie whimpered as she burrowed closer to Zac’s chest. “You don’t own anyone any apologies for what you feel, or for not being perfect. None at all.” He carded his hands through her coarse, dark hair, and then leaned back and held her Evie’s gaze. “But you don’t have to hurt alone anymore. We’re going to ride this out together if you’ll let me. If you want me.” Evie hesitated, gazing up at Zac with eyes so deep and bright she was gazing deep within him. “You want to, you really want to,” she murmured, her voice still hoarse from sobbing and half in wonder. When Zac only nodded, a small smile edging his lips, Evie nodded slowly, as if the simple act will bring the entire hospital down around their ears. “I… I don’t want you to get hurt, I don’t want to put my own happiness over your safety or Leah’s safety or anyone else’s… but I don’t want to lose you.” And that was the truth, and not just lose him through injury or death. “You won’t, on either count.” If Zac thought her worries were ridiculous, he didn’t say it or show it, and it made Evie curl further into him. “You won’t,” he repeated, rocking them back and forth. “It’s all falling apart, I don’t know what to do, I don’t know if I’ll do anything right.” “I get it. After everything that happened, and all in such a small amount of time, your judgement is going to be a small bit askew. You're arguing yourself into a vicious cycle that gets you nowhere. You may have been focusing on your own weaknesses for a while, but you also know your strengths, and I think it’s time you start listening to them as well.” Hoping to get her to start at least trusting herself, Zac asked. "Do you really believe that you didn't want to hurt me, that you didn't want to get angry?" Evie didn't 100% believe it, but the feelings she had been feeling couldn't be pretend. She knew that much, so she said. "I think so, I want to, but I don't think I could make any of this up, I didn't want to hurt you, I wanted you to be happy..." "I believe it as well. I don't think you could make it up either." “But what if we're both wrong, what if I’m still being misleading and being ignorant to the real danger because I don’t want it to be there? What if I’m just doomed to hurt everyone around me and destroy everything I touch?” “Then I’ll remind you of how everything you wished to be, nicer, smarter, all of that- you already were enough of them to our eyes. I'll remind you of how amazingly far you've come, and how far you've yet to go until you’re convinced of it,” Zac reassured, kissing Evie’s forehead. “And we’ll help each other get back to a life where the good days are going to outnumber the bad. We can ask that much at least.” Evie closed her eyes in a long and slow blink. Zac could only imagine how haggard they both looked and felt. Then, Zac saw the smallest, the tiniest of bemused grins toyed on Evie’s lips. “You’re so stubborn,” she sighed, shaking her head. “I don’t know how you’re not tired of having to work so hard with me.” “It’s not work, it’s what family is like. And besides, we’re Maguires,” Zac said, a confident grin etching on his face, reaching out with his thumb to wipe the tears rolling down her cheeks, “stubborn might as well be our nicknames.” Evie didn’t agree or disagree, she just let that tiniest of smiles remain for a bit before leaning forward to slowly hug Zac again, her forehead resting against his collarbone. Zac cupped the back of her head and hugged her gently. Things weren’t fixed, they may never be fixed… but for the first time in a while, Evie began to think in maybe another way, another way past the pain and everything. Zac seemed so certain, even when she didn’t. He had given her a second chance despite everything and…and maybe he was right in doing so. That doesn’t change anything, you’ll put them at risk, just like you always do. Evie couldn’t convince herself otherwise, and what she spoken to Nadia about being afraid. She never considered it, she never let herself consider it, but she now had to think of it. She loved them all so much that she wondered what they would think if they found out everything what was going on with her. She didn't want to think that, because she didn't wanted to do this for selfish reasons, didn't wanted to be deluding herself of that much... but she remembered how she avoided telling Zac about her difficulties, because she feared his reaction. What didn't make sense was how she felt that when at the same time, wanting to tell them how awful she was in order to keep herself away. It couldn't work both ways. It did, however, leave her thinking that maybe she understood what Nadia and Zac said about being able to do both. Maybe her motives weren't completely selfish, maybe it wasn't her only motive. She knew deep down that she did care about them, she didn't feel anything other than love (as well as doubt and fear that something crushing was about to happen) whenever she was with them. She may not be completely sure, but despite believing in the worse of herself, part of her, encouraged by Nadia and Zac's reminders in her memory, began thinking that maybe what she felt was true. Feelings like that couldn't be made up. Maybe she had tried to do right for all of them, maybe she started it out trying to sort the best for all of them, including herself. She didn't know, and she couldn't tell herself she was right or if she was wrong. It was all so confusing and she needed to think about it. But now another small voice was telling her that maybe, just maybe, not to think about it now. To just relax in Zac's arms, that even if she couldn’t trust herself right now, she could trust her family, her friends, at least for now. Maybe, there was something left for her. 'Life puts a heavy strain and pressure on some of us, and unconsciously we find ourselves departing form the conventional standards set up... Not one of us is pure white nor solid black. We are a blend- a grey... blindly groping towards the good.' (An unidentified witness quoting San Francisco journalist and civil campaigner Fremont Older at the service of a suicide victim in America, 1919). I believe this is the best way to describe my intentions towards this story, especially in regards Zac's hard truths with Evie, which has gone on for far longer than I intended. The hope, however, is rising ever so closer onto the horizon. And to you my patient readers, you have my absolute gratitude as always,. Next chapter involves more conversations with Leah, Alf, and Matt.
  4. Thanks Red, though I can't claim credit for all of it, especially when I got most of my information from extremely helpful websites and watched shows such as the West Wing (it's really good by the way) to help construct my writing. I felt now was the good time for encouraging dialogue, especially to make Evie actually think about the situation. I always want to be careful when using dialogue and descriptions like that, because I have no intention of glorifying or romanticising mental health, but rather use stuff to give a good description of what goes on in the head of a person who experiences these difficulties and to make the reader think about it- at least that's what I was hoping for anyway. And sometimes we don't need a dramatic revelation for someone to break free of these dark thoughts- sometimes all that is needed are simple questioning and prompting. Of course the struggle isn't over for Evie yet, she still hasn't let those thoughts go either, because to her just the fact that she survived and Oscar didn't makes it all seem worthless anyway, and it's never as easy as convincing someone that it wasn't their fault (hence why there's more focus on trying to get Evie to try and see point in her life and forgive herself in order for her to see it wasn't her fault) and Nadia doesn't know even now the full extent of what's going on. I didn't want to have all the issues exposed and talked about in a single chapter, because trying to do that would just be overwhelming for both the characters and myself, and each issue needs to be taken one at a time, but, hey, it's a start!
  5. Survivors asked themselves, with harsh remorse, why they still lived when so many others had perished. In many cases, their survival seemed despicable. They knew that for them to live, it had been necessary for others to die; that if they had been lost, someone else would have been safe. (Richard Davenport-Hines discussing the after affects of survivors of the RMS Titanic, Titanic Lives: Migrants, Millionaires, Conmen and Crew, HarperCollins, United Kingdom, 2012). So here's the next chapter guys, and thanks again for your patience and sticking with the story. All rights reserved to their rightful owners. Chapter 18 “Hey, Evie,” Nadia greeted her softly as she sat down next to Evie’s bed. Evie looked up at her exhaustedly, too tired to wonder why she was here. She had tried not to sleep the night before, tried to stay awake so she could figure everything out. There was so much she had to think about, too much to wonder what to do and what not to do, but sleep overtook her all the same. Maybe it was because of everything that happened the night before, maybe because of how soft the bed was, or maybe because it was all so much to think about that her brain just had enough and shut down. That in itself sounded like too good to be true. All she could think about was Zac and Leah’s words… and how much it didn’t make sense. How much she hated herself for dragging them into a situation they probably didn’t want to be in. But then why would they lie? Especially now, after she revealed the worst thing she did? Was she missing something… were they missing something? Evie had thought the whole thing had a simple solution, yet not for the first time, she felt she was so far from coming ever close towards simplicity. “Do you want to talk about it?” Nadia asked her patiently, not specifying any further. They both knew what she meant to ask. Evie’s head rolled over the other side, her eyes falling shut briefly as if keeping them open was too much of a strain under the light, and she gave a humourless huff. She felt exhausted and drained (Which, given the feeding tubes currently wired to her body, is unhumorusly ironic. Tori had talked about how they’re pumping nutritional supplements into her body given her malnutrition state, but she wasn’t listening. None of it mattered.). “What would talking solve?”. Her voice remained hoarse and heavy, her vocal chords under even more strain. “You don’t have to, if you don’t want to,” Nadia said slowly, as if weighing Evie’s potential responses. “But, to answer your question- has not talking about it improve anything?” Evie sighed heavily and wanted to answer back Yes… but realised that she couldn’t. As much as she wanted to give say yes, she couldn’t say that not talking about it improved anything. Because it hasn’t. She had spent so much of her time keeping it all to herself, because she didn’t want to make her problem’s anyone else’s. But somehow she messed it up, and it turned to keeping it all hidden. It left everyone frustrated when she thought it would help, and she tried to make it better… by pushing herself away, when she hated herself for it. If she couldn’t bring herself to talk about it, the least she could do was stop hurting everyone else. Yet, they kept coming back. “I’ve made such a mess of everything, I screwed up so badly…” Evie started, collapsing back onto the bed. She felt all her defences were stricken away stuck on this bed, which led to the excuse she tried not to say before, not to try and make herself seem better than she was, but she felt so exhausted, that it came blurting out of her mouth. “I…I thought I was doing the right thing, I swear, I…” “I know you were, Evie,” Nadia replied. “But what you’ve been doing all this time… it hasn’t been working, and it hasn’t made anyone else better.” She hesitated before answering. “I know why you felt you had to keep yourself away, I understand what was going through your head, and why talking about it… not seemed impossible, but not worth it. And I know you did what you did because you didn’t want to hurt anyone.” “Doesn’t make things better though doesn’t it?” Evie replied bitterly. “Isn’t that what they say, ‘the path to hell was paved with good intentions’? I’m sure there plenty of people who did horrible things but thought they were doing the right thing, so intentions shouldn’t matter.” “In some cases no, but in other cases… well it’s worth a discussion anyway.” Evie shook her head again, though she knew what Nadia said was true. “It…won’t help, it won’t change anything, but… but what else can I do? It’d all be damned if I do, and damned if I don’t. I’d just be dragging everyone down with my issues, and they’ll get hurt and…” She couldn’t finish that sentence, prompting Nadia to speak again. “You know what I saw when I arrived here last night? Every single person here worried about you. They weren’t angry, annoyed, thinking you were an inconvenience or a bother. You saw that too, I know you did. That's the strange thing about people, they'd rather take on more pain and suffering together than watch someone suffering alone. Could you still really consider them being dragged down with you?” Evie stared at her for a long time, before sighing and leaning back against her pillow, her eyes dazed and confused. “I just…… they could have just felt they had to do it, but they… they were too nice to say so… I didn’t want to push that pressure onto them, I know I screwed up, and what I was trying to do means nothing but I thought I could… I could do this right at least… I messed up so badly before…” Nadia listen to what Evie said, and what struck her that Evie didn’t so much as ramble as she was talking. Nothing she said sounded like an excuse, she seemed to focus on trying to get Nadia to understand. And Nadia did understand, she knew how difficult it was sometimes to accept that their loved ones would willing want to deal with their problems. It was an opening for Nadia and she was going to try and slip in. “And why was it difficult for you to just accept that they willingly wanted to help you?” Evie shrugged helplessly and realised, now that she was stuck here, she ought to just say the truth. She could lie, try to minimise everything… but enough was enough. She realised this now, truly realised this now, that there was no proper option other than the truth. “Because of what you suggested before… I was responsible for what happened to… to Oscar and Hannah. Two really good people lost their lives because of me. Two lives worth… so much more than mine and yet they’re gone and I’m still here.” She gave a empty chuckle at that, because what else could you do at a situation like this, the unfairness of it all. Still, Evie felt struck at how easy she said it, despite how horrible it was. Maybe it was because she already said it to Zac, that she finally put it out there. It didn’t feel as right as admitting it ought to, but deep down she knew why. Because she knew that saying so, and if Zac saw it that way, he would hate her, and she was filled with dread at the mere idea of that. Nadia sat there in silence for a while, leaving Evie to get her breathing back under control, for it had hastened as she was talking. Sometimes when people admitted things for the first time, truths they had hidden from other people or themselves, it caused an increase in adrenalin as if the admission was as crucial as life or death. It was important for them to get it out there, but it was also important to let them regain their control in the immediate aftermath. When Evie did so, Nadia asked her starkly: “Did you set off the explosion that day then?” It was a simple question, yet it seemed to set off rockets in Evie’s head, almost making her entire body jerk. No, she didn’t, the mere suggestion felt too terrible for her to focus on, she would never do such a thing, not to them, not to anyone. “No! I wouldn’t, I didn’t!”. Evie almost shrunk back into herself at the surprising sound of the ferocity in her voice. Before she could apologise, Nadia was nodding. “Exactly, and the first step is admitting that. Andrew Barrett and Wayne Snelgrove started that fight. That was their choice, not yours. Do you not agree?” Evie did. She knew that, she knew what Andy and Tank did, and she hated the pair of them for it, but then… the guilt she felt remained despite that fact. “Yeah, but… if I hadn’t brought Tank into our lives then… he wouldn’t have blinded Josh and then Josh probably wouldn’t have… wouldn’t have killed Charlotte and Zac wouldn’t have gone to prison and… I mean, doesn’t that make sense?” Evie asked desperately, turning back to Nadia, the unspoken plea clear, as if Evie was pleading for Nadia to make sense out of it. Evie wanted to do it, but she felt so exhausted. She felt as though there was more to it than what she was saying, but she refused to focus on that, she didn’t want to sound so pitiful- “In a way, it is easy to make a connection to try and make sense out of all of it. Linking past events in the face of something as traumatic as you’re going through is extremely tempting. However, that doesn’t make it true.” When Evie didn’t answer, either in objection or acceptance, Nadia leaned forward. “Do you remember what we talked about last session? Correlation, not causation. Just because it’s easy to create a pattern, doesn’t mean it was there. Josh made his own choices, you had no responsibility towards his decisions. No more than you did over Andy’s or Tank’s. Maybe they didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt- other than each other obviously- , but the responsibility lies with them. Just because you shared some responsibility over an event before, doesn’t mean you share the responsibility of everything that happened after.” “So what?”, Evie replied with a derisive snort, feeling the agitation rising up in her. “That doesn’t change anything. All of this stuff… I caused all of this and I didn’t do anything to stop it hurting the people I care about, and… and I never faced responsibility for it…” “For what? You have no control over what they did. You didn’t do anything directly or indirectly to cause the explosion. What is there to face responsibility for?” “Because it all still happened and there was nothing I could do to stop it! I couldn’t protect Oscar, or Hannah or anyone! I let them die!” Evie shouted, her voice a raw mix of anguish and anger. She didn’t want to say it, because that didn’t seem enough to show her shame, her guilt. That didn’t make it not true though. She closed her eyes and stood straighter on her bed, looking Nadia closer in the eye. And strangely enough, there was a strong gleam in Nadia’s eyes that looked like- not disgust, anger- approval? “And that is the main thing that has been driving all of your depression this entire time. You survived an extremely dangerous situation, a situation that could have just as easily have cost you your own life, yet people you loved didn’t. And that makes you angry that you weren’t able to help them, so much that the idea of being in danger yourself becomes squashed and never gets a moment to reveal itself. I read about what happened, and I don’t think you’ve accepted how easily it could have been you killed in their place. So every excuse you had to be angry at yourself and push that desire for help down, you took it-” “That can’t just be it,” Evie interrupted her, her voice returning to its hazily tone. “It was all still real, I… I felt that guilt, I didn’t just make it all up in my head.” “I never said you did,” Nadia replied. “Everything you felt was genuine, Evie, I assure you. But I’m gonna run past a hypothesis with you, and you tell me how right or wrong I am: What I’ve seen tells me you hate the idea of letting your loved ones down. You wouldn't stand the idea of standing idly by while something like this happens. But that feeling isn’t enough, you needed to find a way to connect all of this, so it would seem logical to you, so that you had a legit reason to be angry at yourself other than the idea of feeling that helplessness.” Evie looked down, because as much as she felt it too easy to accept that, her rational subconscious was begging her to actually think about it. “I still let them down, I should have been smarter, I should have worked harder-” “What about Zac?” Evie’s eyes narrowed in confusion, looking back at Nadia. “What about him?” “He met Tank in prison, try to get him out-” No, no, absolutely not. Evie could see where Nadia was going with this, Josh brought it up before as well, and it was a thought Evie refused to even acknowledge. “No, it’s not the same…” “What about Ruth Stewart?” “It isn’t their fault. They couldn’t have known!” Evie insisted stubbornly. “Then how could you have?” Evie opened her mouth and for the second time, found there was nothing she could say. She could insist that it wasn’t the same, she couldn’t hold it against Roo or Zac, not when they were suffering as much as- anyway, it didn’t feel right to blame them. Andy… it was different because he went there to start a fight, and that would never have ended well no matter what would have happened and he should have known better. That didn’t change the question, though. Because… she felt it was different, but there was no credible reason as she could see why it would be different, especially with what Nadia was telling her- Only because you want to believe it. You want to accept the idea so you can escape this guilt. Well, it ain’t that easy, you want it to be but it doesn’t matter what you want, remember? Evie gritted her teeth, because she knew she would want to believe what Nadia was telling her, but if she was, what would that mean for Oscar? It felt it would be disrespecting his memory. And he was dead anyway, so what difference did it make, or if it did to the fact that she wished she was dead. “That doesn’t mean there could have been something I could have done-” “At the risk of sounding callus, I’m sure there could have been. There could have been something you could have done. Just the same as there was something either of them could have done. If you felt something was wrong, I’m sure you would have tried to do something to protect Oscar or Hannah, did you feel something was wrong?” “No,” Evie admitted, ready to continue with the argument that she ought to have known, but somehow she didn’t say anything more, allowing Nadia to continue. “Then it wasn't your fault. You were caught completely unprepared by it, same as everyone else, so there was literally nothing you could have done. There are things in this world beyond our control. Trying to go back to the past to figure a way in which you could have done better does nothing to change anything. It’s tempting, it can help you figure out what to do in future situations, but doing so in a way to torment yourself is always a mistake.” “What if I don’t want to be in future situations?” Evie bitterly retorted. “What if I shouldn’t be in any future situations, when there’s someone else who ought to have the chance more than I do. What if I deserve to be tormented?” "Would you say that to anyone else? Do you think anyone else deserved to feel the torment you're feeling? Do you believe they deserve to be dead?" Nadia asked. She knew these questions were sharp, harsh and not the type of questions you ask someone when they’re in a hospital bed, but she had an opening and she needed to take advantage of it before Evie closed up again. Now, the girl was watching her with something akin to horror. “I... I don't... not...no”, Evie rumbled. She never wished death on anyone, not even someone like Andy or Hunter. It made her feel incredibly nauseous just thinking about it. She knew, as much as it made her feel guilty now, that she had wished harm to other people, when she was angry, but that never went as far as that. She never wanted anyone dead and meant it… except herself, strangely enough. That felt different, because she felt she ought to be dead… “I should be dead, I should be dead,” Evie muttered, realising she was voicing her own thoughts out loud. Nadia listened, though that in itself was hard to do so, before asking. "Evie, I have to know now, so I know what to prepare for," Nadia said slowly, already knowing the answer, but she needed confirmation before she could act on it. "Have you felt like committing suicide?" Evie's body froze, went entirely rigid as she stopped muttering. Her eyes hardened before she nodded. Nadia feared there could be more, but held off. She was just scratching the surface, and more questions down the line she was thinking of right now could overwhelm Evie. “I know you feel like that, I know you may feel like that for a long time…” “Well, then why do I want to be dead? Why am I constantly blaming myself if I hold no responsibility over this, when it’s just another example more people dead or worse off when they’re around me?”, Evie threw a barrel of questions at her, and then, after what felt like a long silence, came a final broken question: “What is wrong with me?” “What do you think? If it isn’t what you have believed all this time, what else could you think it is?” Evie shrugged, though she knew the answer. “Depression, maybe, that I couldn’t see past it…it all felt so hollow and I couldn’t do anything…it made me feel like I wasn’t stuck in some loop… but that doesn’t explain all of it...” “Well to start, nothing is wrong with you, Evie. Nothing. You are just experiencing depression, just like hundreds of people around the world do. It explains why you wouldn’t feel that drive that you have used to get through so much in your life so far, how you couldn’t remain focused or interested in what you have been before, knowing the most important person in your life is no longer there alongside you.” Evie gritted her teeth again and shook her head. Nadia reached out and held onto her hand as she continued talking. “And something else. Something you haven’t thought of, something that actually wouldn’t occur to a lot of people, but is just as equally driving what is going on with you.” “And what’s that?” “Survivor’s guilt. You feel a sense of responsibility for what happened to Oscar and Hannah due to the mere fact that you survived and they didn’t…” Evie shook her head, a screaming match in her own head trying to drown out Nadia’s words. Evie didn’t know who she ought to let win. “I know you don’t believe everything I’ve told you right now. I don’t expect you to, especially after all this time stuck believing one thing, and all your losses stacked up… it would be hard to see otherwise. I’m not expecting anything from you, but if I may ask one thing- after what we discussed, why would you think this sense of guilt feels so much in this case?” Evie didn’t want to think about it, didn’t want to think about anything, yet she could think of an answer regardless. She had almost died, Nadia was right. The explosion was a case where she could have been killed or maimed just as easily as… And there you go, thinking about yourself as usual, and she was thrown back from that thought and, looking forward, focusing on the blank wall it was with those words she answered. “It’s not about me.” “Evie, I’m sorry, but like it or not, it is,” Nadia insisted, not letting go of Evie’s hand. “You are important to so many people and this is about you. I don’t think you’re trying to avoid talking about it now because you want to lie, I think you’re afraid it’s selfish. You may not trust yourself, but take it from a professional, it isn’t selfish.” Evie looked back at her, giving a defeated sigh, and against every urge in her body, answered. “I guess, because I was almost killed, what happened to… to… could have just as easily to me and the fact that it didn’t… that I didn’t… when it should have been me…” Nadia acknowledged that last bit reluctantly, knowing it won’t be easy for Evie to break out of that thought, she wasn’t going solve it in one night. “It all came down to chance that day. There was nothing you could have done in that moment to change anything.” Evie didn’t acknowledge this, so Nadia tried a different approach. “Okay, let me ask you something else. Zac was in a situation somewhat similar to what you’re feeling. If he was feeling the extent of what you’re feeling what would you say to him?” Evie felt even more nauseous at the idea of Zac even feeling a fraction of the self-hatred she felt for herself, yet she stammered out. “It’s…it’s not the s-same…” “Humour me, then.” Evie bit her lip. Though she still didn’t believe she didn’t deserve it, she was grateful for the way Nadia was talking to her. The older woman’s voice was sympathetic, (though Evie didn’t want to hear any sympathy for herself, yet she was so tired that she couldn’t deny the gratitude that swelled up there, not anymore), but it was also challenging. She made Evie think, she wasn’t treating her like a fragile vase that could shatter at any moment. It made her feel… normal, as if, despite herself insisting otherwise, she could actually be normal. Evie thought about her question for a moment and answered honestly. “It wouldn’t be his fault. He… he had the best intentions and he couldn’t hold responsibility for what Hunter did. And… even then,” she continued, her drudged-up brain surprisingly coming up with something else. “he has the chance to do better than before, and he would take it.” Nadia leaned forward, a small smile edging on her lips. “Then don’t you think you ought to try the very same?” Evie looked deeply at Nadia, saw no indication of forced words or sarcasm, and lay back onto the bed, screwing her eyes in concentration. It wasn’t as though what Nadia was saying didn’t make any sense anymore- it was because it was making too much sense. Her words felt too logical for her previous believes to hold a candle against it, yet those feelings of guilt and self-hatred remained. Because Oscar was still dead, regardless because of her, and she couldn’t help him. And Hannah, the woman who took them in, who was her aunt and protector as much as their parents were when they were growing up, was dead too, and Evie felt guilt for her and Chris, for still being here while they weren’t. Chris, who was so nice to everyone he wasn’t in competition with, who suffered so much yet kept working with a smile on his face- how could she have faced him for so long, knowing she felt responsible for what happened to someone he loved. How could she have been around him all this time, while pretending, being just like Josh. Maddy who faced a life-changing few months away from her boyfriend and the woman she considered as a second mother while Evie remained unscathed, walking around while- Oh. Maybe that was what Nadia meant. That she felt the guilt for just being alive and well when such horrible things happened to the people she cared about, that she took whatever bad thing she had ever done (because even if she was wrong and Nadia was right, she still messed up before, that hasn’t changed, and the fact she may be suffering from depression still didn’t change anything to Evie,) and connected it. It didn’t seem certain, not to her, especially with all this guilt that seemed to say she messed up badly and it still cost Oscar and Hannah and so many others, and it doesn’t change the fact that she still made those past mistakes- but it could still be possible. No it isn’t, you’re just looking for any excuse not to blame, and Nadia here is handing you one on a silver platter! You think you can solve anything from talking about it or admitting it, you’re wrong. You’ll still be the selfish, worthless excuse of a being you’ll always be. You should have killed yourself ages ago, right before you made a scene and caused everyone to waste their time on you… Still, it didn’t change how tired she felt, all the time. How much she sees all of it, all jumbled up together every time she closes her eyes, how she can’t sleep or eat, how she can’t be in public spaces without shutting down. She may deserve it, she can’t rid herself of that feeling, even if things no longer seemed as certain as they have before, but she was so fed up with it, with all of it. “I don’t know how long I can keep doing this, remembering everything that happened, everyday.” And with that voice in her head, all but booing her for every word she spoke, about how selfish she was being, how weak she was being, yet Nadia didn’t do any of that, and that mere fact made Evie focus on her. “Could you tell me about it then?” ---- Matt got up wearily, trying to bring the courage to get up in the morning. He knew what he was going to do today, and while he knew that he wanted to do this, wanted to help Evie no matter what, the nerves were still racking him. He had to be certain to say the right thing this time, and to do the right thing that would actually change something for Evie- he was just worried it wouldn’t be enough. He had some ideas on how to help her, but before he had to talk to Olivia, because now he had to know how to approach Evie now, after seeing what he saw. That image of what Evie did to herself was haunting, but he needed to know how to help her so she’ll won’t do it again. If there was a more healthy way of her healing and coping, Matt had to help her find it in a way for her to still maintain her own control. That was just as important. He had stayed at the hospital long during the night before being practically forced out the doors by Tori and Mason. Evie was awake for a while, talking to Zac and Leah, but then she wanted time alone before she went back to sleep. Matt wished he had a chance to talk with her, just to say… something, anything, just for her to know how grateful he was that she was alive. However, his logical side got in the way of all the mixed up emotions he was feeling and made him respect what she needed right now. They would have plenty of time to figure out what she needed later. He didn’t know what was going on before, he never imagined it went this bad, but that was going to change. That gave him a bit of hope. Matt was just about to leave when he noticed Roo getting up as well. The older woman was walking around the counter, and noticed Matt getting ready to leave. “How are you feeling?”, she asked cautiously, knowing that last night wasn’t good. She hated hearing how much Evie was suffering, but knew it was still difficult for Matt. Matt shrugged at the question. “I don’t know, just a bit of… I don’t know how to explain it, nervous anticipation? I want to know what’s going on and I want to be able to help, but…” “You’re also afraid of what you will find?” Roo suggested when Matt couldn’t finish that sentence. That fear wasn’t anything to be ashamed of. Roo knew from first-hand experience of how terrifying it was for someone to get through the mental anguish a loved one was feeling. It won’t change that person’s willingness to help- but the willingness didn’t make it any more easy. “Yeah, kinda,” Matt admitted, his face red with embarrassment. It wasn’t easy admitting how scared he felt (Which was why he immediately reacted impulsively at times, though he had gotten better at it before), along with the bad memories of how his relationship with Maddy ended, but he had to anyway. If he needed to see past it, he needed to get it out of his system. “Is that okay?” Roo smiled ruefully and reached over to pat Matt’s hand. “To be honest, Matt, I’d be worried if you weren’t feeling that. It’s just… a way of someone sorting all that is going on. You'll sort through it though and get things right, you always do.” Roo knew that when it came to his friends, Matt would be running through brick walls to help them. This was coming way too much of a routine for Matt and Evie, especially at their age, to deal with so much crap and all in so little time. Matt shrugged again, his expression more grateful now however, removing his hand away from Roo. “Just wish I knew this beforehand… I gave her space sometimes, because I wanted to respect her wishes and not be overbearing, but then other times, when I tried to hang out because… I thought it was what both of us needed.” “Why did you need it?” “Because… she’s my friend and I… after Maddy left, I was determined to hold onto the people I care about. Sometimes, dealing with this emotional stuff… I’m not as good as I hope to be, but after…after what happened, I thought trying to talk about it would help, or at least I know what to do to help. I just feel as though I mixed it all up though, got so much the wrong way, I should have known better…” “But you can learn better now,” Roo assured him, knowing where his insecurities and doubts can lead him. “You were trying in your own way, and you can still do that, but with a better idea than before, yeah? Hold onto that thought. And I get how hard it is to try and help Evie before, I get it. The type of energy misery brings a person is just suffocating for them and that energy spreads to everyone around them, especially when the person suffering it tries to prevent it from happening. You have to shoulder it, but to look after yourself and your mental health as well, for both your sakes.” Matt’s face grew a small smile, a bit of hope daring to make itself known. “Thanks,” he said, before thoughtfully adding, “How about you? You looking after yourself as well?”. He knew it was a tricky subject to approach, even between the two of them. Just as he feared of what was going on with Evie and her grief for Oscar and Hannah, he also feared this could spark a relapse for Roo and her recovery. Roo shook her head fondly and smiled again, this time a bit more hesitantly. She knew what he meant, and there were still times the guilt had threatened to overcome her but she got by it, because she knew Oscar and Hannah would never hold it against her, neither did anyone else in the Bay. “I’ll be fine, don’t you worry about that. You have enough to think about, okay?”. Matt nodded, deciding to trust her. After all the trust Roo had given him, Matt felt it only right to do the same. “Anyway, I’ve got to go talk to someone. I’ll see you later,” he called out before leaving through the door. ----- “Matt, hey,” Chris said upon opening the door and seeing his friend. “How’s Evie? Did you see her today? Is she awake?-” “Um… I…hey, first of all,” Matt asked, trying to hide how overwhelmed he felt by all the questions, or by Chris’s uncharacteristic nervousness. “I haven’t seen her yet, but I’m going to see her in the afternoon. Actually, I’m here to see Olivia, is she in?” Chris’s wide eyes scrunched up in confusion. As far as he knew Olivia and Matt didn’t really hang out. In fact, with the exception of VJ, Olivia didn’t really hang out with anyone around the Bay now-a-days. “Uh, yeah, why, what’s up-” “Chris,” Olivia came up behind the stairs, a pensive look etched on her face. “Listen…um… Matt needs help with something and we need your help with it as well.” Chris looked back at her, and felt the tension surrounding her and Matt. Whatever they wanted to talk about, it probably wasn’t good. “Right, okay, let’s sit down then,” he said encouragingly, patting Matt on the shoulder and looking back at Olivia with a look of concern. She gave him a reassuring smile as they all sat down. Olivia broke the silence once again, guessing from the look on Matt’s face what he came here to talk about. “Did Evie tell you anything…?” Matt shook his head, knowing the situation was more murkier than Olivia expected and looking apologetically at Chris’s confused expression. “There… there wasn’t really much time to, but… she was unconscious, we were getting her to the hospital, her… her sleeve slipped and I saw… I saw…” Matt had to take two breaths before continuing, “It was a scar, like… it was red, like it was cut recently, around her wrist…” Olivia had to suppress a shudder as Matt talked, not liking the vivid of his description. She used to shut down upon getting even close to the subject, which made the group sessions she went to difficult at first, but at least now she could stomach it without running from the room. That didn’t stop her feet automatically moving in a nervous tap, nor the sadness she felt upon seeing the look of realisation dawning on Chris’s face, only to be replaced by one of horror, then by one of apprehension, looking over to Olivia with even more concern. Matt, meanwhile couldn’t finish the rest of his sentence, which didn’t matter, because by the shared looks of Olivia and Chris, they thankfully got the picture without asking for more detail. Remembering something else Olivia had said before, Matt found the courage to answer: “I didn’t tell anyone else… Mason found out while he was helping the doctors, but we agreed not to tell anyone else unless Evie wants us to.” Olivia nodded encouragingly, despite Matt thinking of several lingering questions that pounded in his own head: what happens if Evie doesn’t want them to tell anyone about it, ever? What if she decides to keep it to herself? What do they do then? How do they help her? Another question that popped into his mind was how did Olivia knew, yet he didn’t voice this. He could tell this was personal to her, just by the look of run-or-fight on her face. Matt felt grateful she was even letting him talking about it in the first place. “Where do I go from here?” Chris sighed and looked towards Olivia. “The same as I said before. You can’t make any assumptions about it, but you need to find a way to ask what is going on and let her come to you about it. She… she needs that control, and no one ought to take that away from her.” “But what do I do if Evie decides not to talk about it? She may not feel comfortable about talking about it with anyone… I don’t know if I ought to bring it up with her, because what if she shuts down? If we don’t bring it up, if she won’t talk about it, and…if she keeps doing it and…” I would never forgive myself if I couldn’t stop what is happening to her, he couldn’t finish that sentence either, because the end of it seemed so horrible to utter out loud. “That doesn’t mean you give up on getting her to change her mind,” Chris advised him, forcing himself to get over the shock of the news as quickly as he could. He felt despaired at this he knew that no one deserved to feel like they had to hurt themselves. And that was the thing, anyone who felt that felt they had to. No one ever did for a laugh or some sake of drama. After all this time helping Olivia, just the very idea of downplaying or degrading the emotions of a person who suffered like that made him angry and almost made him get into a fight with a couple of boys at the Diner who were shouting their mouth off about the topic for some strange reason. He hated it even more that it was happening to a person he knew, a person who he considered a friend, and the niece of the woman Chris imagined his future with. It felt like a large cloud overwhelmed him, giving a terrible wrench in his stomach and made his eyes downcast. It would have killed Hannah all over again if she knew what was going on with Evie. “Even if she doesn’t talk to you about it immediately, that just means we have to find a different way of getting her to be in a more relaxed state.” “That’s the most important,” Olivia agreed. “She’s gonna feel on the edge, simultaneously terrified and frantic about it. You need to ease into a state where she would want to talk about it.” “What would I have to do to achieve that?”, Matt asked. “Because… I just feel…” “I get it,” Chris replied honestly. “But you need to be sure you are calm and don’t overreact to anything she tells you. You can’t force her to change anything- I know you probably already thought that, but listen to me Matt, it’s incredibly important for her to do this at her own pace. Trying to bring about change fast and quickly, without processing any of what’s going on with her- that’s not going to help.” Chris knew he was reciting all he had researched and learned while trying to help Olivia, but that still didn’t reduce how essential it all was right now for Evie and Matt, and how applicable it was for a lot more situations. “Whatever she shares with you,” Olivia added. “Respect the amount of trust she gives you by opening up to you, no matter what it is.” Part of her is still feeling uncomfortable wading into this territory, let alone someone who she still doesn’t like, especially with Hunter locked away, but she remembers Chris’s kind words from before, the bravery of the people in her support group who talked about their experiences, and she pushed forward just as Matt, with a look that said an light bulb went off in his head, spoke. “And whatever it is, I… I can just be gentle and let her know I’m there and want to support her,” Matt said. He wasn’t sure if it was a statement or a question, if it was a sentence he believed or said out of disbelief. He had no idea of it would be enough, he hoped it would. The thought occurred to him, sparking a memory of how he learned to look after Maddy’s needs long ago. It was just the same thing, he had to remember that. When he returned back to the present, both Chris and Olivia were nodding, as if to say he was on the right track. Matt honestly didn’t mind that Chris was telling him stuff that he already knew, it was good to be reminded of it anyway. It acted as confirmation. “You’re on the right track. Even if she doesn’t want to talk about it, just letting her know you’re there, that can help more than people can think, but… listen to me, Matt,” Chris said, his voice turning a surprisingly urgent tone. “It’s important to… to… this is going to be hard to explain, but… you got to…focus on the feelings she’s feeling when she is… self-harming, not the action itself.” “What do you mean?” Matt asked, not really sure how anyone could exactly separate the two. “I mean… I know I can’t straight ask her about… the…” he struggled for an appropriate word to use without feeling tears rise in his eyes again and settled for, “injuries, but…” Chris looked at him pointedly in a uncharacteristically serious look until finally it clicked with Matt. “It’s… it’s more about the feelings, why she feels she would have to do it, isn’t it? That's the most important?”, he asked thoughtfully. Chris nodded and Olivia said, “Talking about what is causing it and what can be done to make things better is... to be honest it's as closest as you’re going to get her to know she is being supported. It won’t solve much at the start, but…” she sighs, looking over at Chris hopefully. “It’ll be better off than before. The fact that you're considering this right now, should tell you that you're going to have a good idea.” “Hopefully,” Matt said, but his doubts remained. He knew that what Chris and Olivia were telling him was probably the right stuff to know, and the right things to do, but they still haven’t seen Evie talk the way she had. The despair and guilt she felt… would anything he say make any difference? He was beginning to understand all his attempts to reassure her that he wanted to hang out with her didn’t help- because it could only make her worse. He needed to restrain his frustration, he knew that, but that didn't stop how terrified he felt about not doing this right. “Just one more thing,” Chris added before Matt could question that. “It’s… different, I know, and it’s… it’s a lot more than you expected, but… it’s still Evie. This is still the same Evie that is your friend, just a different side of her. Treat her like you would anyone else.” Matt heard this and acknowledged it with sudden realisation. He realised that all the time when he was worried about Evie, thinking of how much she was behaving wasn’t like the way he knew her before… but then he realised that shouldn’t matter. Of course, he cared for Evie, and wanted her to get better, to realise she deserved good things in the world… but asking for her go be things the way they were was unrealistic. So much has changed that while some things about Evie would remain the same, she wouldn’t go back to how she was before. But that didn’t mean their friendship was over. He realised he need to make sure she didn’t feel ashamed of who she was before, or if she had changed. She was still Evie. ----- “Sometimes… that day is the only thing I dream about… and it gets all too loud and I can see them all… I try to warn them, to get them out, but nothing changes… I can’t solve any of it, and then…Other times, it manifests into something different…sometimes I’m just lost, hearing their voices calling for help, but it’s all so dark and I’m just stumbling and straggling and I can’t find them… they all end the same way, no matter how different they are,” Evie admitted, her voice barely above a whisper. It was strange, almost unnerving how much she revealed right now, but as soon as Nadia asked, a lot of it came blurting out. The nightmares (which she was just talking about), the moments when she was overwhelmed by feelings of unexplainable anger and sadness, how her body goes into an immediate state of alert whenever she gets overwhelmed by loud or sudden noises. Nadia described it as a panic attack, telling her how normal that was as well, even if it seemed completely abnormal. Evie still felt nervous and ashamed though, because she knew this was only scratching the surface. She still hasn’t talked about her self-harming herself, nor how she believes she deserves to be punished (not know, because she can’t know that anymore), nor how she felt nervous in other people’s presence, nor how she doesn’t eat anymore because each bite feels undeserved, nor how her head is constantly at war with itself, her thoughts chaotic monsters raging for dominance. Talking about the nightmares and the constant state of fear… was wearying but also… strangely light, as though an enormous amount of pressure was lifted and removed from her shoulders. That made her feel slightly more at ease… but it also terrified her, because it felt good and she still couldn’t convince herself she deserved that easiness. That prevented her from revealing anything else. She felt like talking about how waking up doesn’t make anything better, because they’re… they’re still dead, and the day, no matter who else was there, even if it was unfair to anyone else, the day was pointless. Nadia listened the entire time, never interrupting to ask questions, until now. “And would you like to tell me about what happened last night?” Evie felt her own face turning red with embarrassment. She didn’t know if she could talk about it. That prodding reminder that it was all her fault remained and clouded her sight. She was still felt with anger that she was still alive yet Oscar and Hannah weren’t, and it felt really selfish to talk about it affecting her, despite Nadia’s assurances. “It doesn’t matter… I overreacted… that was all…” Nadia sighed. “Is that what you truly believe?” she asked sceptically. Evie gritted her teeth and shook her head. “No.” “No,” Nadia agreed. “Do you believe it is more likely that seeing someone messing around with a highly flammable object was going to trigger memories of that day?” “Yes,” Evie admitted. She can see how that makes more sense, even if it didn’t set right in her head. “It’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” Nadia told Evie, noticing the redness growing on the younger girl’s cheeks. “Evie, I promise you, when you have experienced a traumatic experience like that- even if you weren’t injured- and received no help for it, it is normal to be trigged as you were. I read what happened that day, and I heard enough about it from Zac. You refused any medical treatment because you wanted to keep looking for Oscar. You tried all you could, Evie… though I know to you that isn’t enough. It will never be enough.” “I… I don’t think I’ve ever felt so useless in my entire life. They… they meant everything to me, and everytime before, there was always something I could do for them… but that time…they were just gone, and I felt so meaningless.” Evie shuddered, and not just for that. This is the first time she ever spoke about how she felt about all of it. She couldn’t help it, before she had resisted it, but somehow Nadia’s soft voice encouraged the words to slip from her mind to her tongue. She realised, for the first time, that she had always known these feelings were there, about all of it, including the stuff about Josh. She just truly believed none of it was important, so she pretended that it wasn’t there. “So, what, I’m just destined to have an reaction like that whenever…” Evie just gestured with her shoulders, her voice holding no sign of fear or despair, just acceptance. She didn’t even focus about how she didn’t really admit anything about how she felt when it happened. She didn’t know if she could explain how this was ten times worse than any attack she had before, even if she knew why. She felt her stomach turning over itself around at the reminder of how she reacted the night of the explosion. Why did Nadia had to remind her of that, of how panicked and scared she felt… “No.” “How do you know?” Evie asked suspiciously, and Nadia smiled. “Because we get better. Now that we identified the trigger, we can stop it. If you wanted to arrange a fourth appointment, I’d be happy to talk to you more about it.” “If… if I want you to…” Evie murmured, as if none of those words made any sense to her. Don’t do it, don’t be selfish… “Of course, Evie,” Nadia replied, feeling suddenly sad all of a sudden. She expected this, but it still felt awful to see when a person still couldn’t see the chance to get help would be available to them, or that they deserve to reach out for that chance with both hands. “This comes down to your choice. I can’t drag or force you to talk about any of this. Me, Zac, Leah, your friends… we can guide you towards the right path all you want… but it is up to you to walk it in the first place.” Evie realised this, she knew this. This was her responsibility, and she didn’t want to anyone else to bare it. This had nothing to do with the idea of proving herself, that barely mattered to her anymore, but she couldn’t believe that she deserved such a chance. A chance that ought to be given to a good person, and she didn’t believe that was her. “What if you’re wrong?”, she asked. Immediately fearing that the question was too blunt, but Nadia didn’t look at all offended by it. “About what?” “About… that thing… ‘causation, not correlation’. What if… I don’t mean to offend, but what if you’re wrong about that? What if it is my fault? What if… I do deserve to feel like this?” Maybe a lot of what Nadia said made sense, but she couldn’t trust herself to accept it, because the old her would have wanted to accept it. Nadia frowned. They already discussed whether or not Evie did anything to cause the explosion, and how trying to connect past events to try and explain things that are out of their control is not logical. But Nadia could tell Evie meant something else. “Because you couldn’t save Oscar.” Evie felt everything in her crumbling as she nodded, as if, despite what she said before, those words would shatter her entire being. Because that was the most important thing. Maybe she grabbed onto that belief of it being her fault because she still felt responsible for letting Oscar down, as if to try and make sense out of it. She let him die and there was nothing she could do, that hasn’t changed. And that was what mattered the most. “I know… I know how the world works, sometimes bad things can happen to good people… it doesn’t change how unfair it all is though… He… he was so better than me, in all the ways that mattered. And Hannah… she was getting her life back on track, and… and she did so much for me and Oscar and… I took it all for granted… “ “If there was a chance you could have saved them, would you?” Nadia didn’t bother to ask even if it meant her own life, because she already knew the answer. Even if Evie didn’t know what that truly meant. “Yes,” Evie said. It had nothing to do with bravery, nothing to do with being noble or anything like that, she knew she’d do anything to save them. “But there’s nothing that can change, nothing I can do for them… and that makes everything else so pointless,” she said suddenly, not realising that she was apparently ready to talk more. “It’s… it’s not fair to anyone else, but waking up and knowing the nightmares… largely were true, and they were no longer here… it’s like nothing else that is going on matters. Life doesn’t even matter that much.” “There is something you can do, Evie. They would want you to live your life. I know that would not seem like much, but their legacy is now in your hands. You owe it up to yourself to try and do right for them. Once you accept that… then you can begin to forgive yourself.” “I don’t think I know how,” Evie admitted, feeling more hopeless, as reminders of how much she could have handled this right- maybe not the way Nadia was saying but still a different way of doing it- and yet she destroyed any attempt of doing it right. “At least not without messing things up. I messed things up before, and I didn’t handle any of it right, and I… I pushed everyone away, and I thought it was the right thing to do, because… they didn’t deserve to deal with me… I hurt them...” “So maybe you did mess up. But now you have a chance to not make the same mistakes as before. They were honest mistakes, the type made with the best intentions. It wasn’t the best thing to do, but now you can do better. Remember what I said… no one was trying to hurt each other. No one has a perfect past, and no one will have a perfect future. But you are given a chance to be the good person you can be, and that Zac and Leah know you to be.” “I don’t deserve their help.” “That’s their decision to make, though, and they really want to help you, because they feel you do deserve it. Maybe you’ve done bad stuff in the past, less honest mistakes, but you have the chance to do better than you did before. There’s a wide gulf between keeping your worst impulses in check and believing you don’t deserve any chance. And I know you won’t like this, now Evie, but I’ll say this as well- if I was talking to Andrew Barrett or Hunter King and they were feeling the guilt and depths you were feeling, I’d be trying to set them on the right path too. Mental recovery should not be restricted to anyone.” “How is that even right?”, Evie asked bitterly, looking down on her bed. How could Nadia even--- why do people like that deserve a better chance? “So, no matter what they do… what they’ve done, it can’t be forgotten, it can’t be forgiven…” “Those two things aren’t exclusive, Evie.” Nadia countered. “Yes, people like Hunter or Barrett need to be held to account. They need to stand up and admit what they’ve done and accept the consequences. I believe it more than for the sake of the law or society- more for the people they end up hurting. However, once justice has been served, if there is a chance for redemption for someone like that, it ought to be taken. No one says anything about immediately forgetting or forgiving, but even if you end up forgiving them, no matter how difficult it is right now, you won’t be forgetting anything they’ve done. But holding onto that hate, refusing to forgive- it can take over a person’s entire life and turn it into something ugly. No matter how bright a person might be, it could happen to anyone. You, me, anyone.” As she said that, a line occurred to her and she said, “To a dark place this line of thought will carry us. Great care we must take.” Silence followed that, feeling more tense than it did before. Then Evie looked up, her gaze suddenly sharp as she said in a wonderous voice- “That’s from Yoda in Star Wars.” Nadia shrugged her shoulders, a small smile bringing a bit of levity to the situation. “Doesn’t me he’s wrong though.” Evie had a look that she suddenly wanted to smile, but instead her look remained forlorn, as if it was taking strength to keep her face that way. “I… I… I just can’t get myself to believe you… what you’re telling me, it just seems so hard… but also, too easy to believe that I would deserve a second chance. Because… I mean… if I had caused it… I was still around everyone, thinking I held some responsibility… but they didn’t blame me when I knew they should…isn’t that cowardly of me? That I felt I was and I didn’t tell anyone… they lost people they cared about, and I was still there, acting as though I was innocent… doesn’t that say something about me?” “I think it does,” Nadia said cautiously. “I think it says that deep down, your rational subconscious knows that you didn’t do anything to cause the explosion, though the guilt for surviving remained, clouding everything up. As for you being around everyone else, I think there’s another reason for that, another reason that you don’t see.” “And what would that be?” Evie said, trying to sound sceptical, but couldn’t muster the right tone for it. “That you love them too much to properly let them go. Even if you were telling yourself it would be safer for you to leave them go, you were still going to work, still hanging out with them. You were trying to walk both paths. If you want, I can help you walk the right one. I know you did it because you felt like you owe them something, but can I ask you… did you also did it because you loved them and enjoyed it, or at least some of it?” Evie didn’t know if she had a proper answer to that. Because it was mixed up. The work wasn’t what she had initially hoped it would be… but waking up seeing Zac and Leah and VJ and Mr Stewart, hanging out with Matt and Mason, talking to Maddy on the phone…even agreeing to go to the party with Matt, because she loved them all. She felt it was the right thing to do at the time, but a large part of that was because she really did like being a part of her family and friends’ lives. It was a responsibility she was glad to have. For the days she didn’t want to be left alone, she wanted to be around them. And being alone… it was miserable, even when she needed time to herself. That was why she pushed everyone away, because she deserved the misery, and didn’t deserve their presence. Even their mistakes didn't matter to her. “There were times when it felt it was all overwhelming, y’know,” she admitted in a dazed murmur. It still amazed her how easy it was for it all to come out. “And I felt I needed to be alone… I can’t tell if it was because I needed that alone time or if I was forcing it on myself, I can’t tell… but hanging out with everyone… I don’t know how I felt… it was good to see them… it really was, but I tried to not think about that, because even that felt selfish…and that soured everything because even when there weren’t any arguing or anything like that… it felt like so much pressure, and I wanted to handle it, but I didn’t know if I was doing it for me or them…they didn’t understand why and I couldn’t handle that… after everything I did or didn’t do, they wouldn’t want me…” Of course they won’t. You’re just affecting everyone with your problems, just so you can feel better. And you do feel better, just by talking about it. It’s pathetic, it’s stupid, you’re going to get everyone killed, you- “Stop it, stop it, stop it!” Evie groaned, bringing her hands up to her head. That damned voice was louder than it was before, and she hated it. She always hated it, yet she held onto it, because she didn’t know if it was right or not. She feared it was, but didn’t believed it was wrong to ignore it. She had always listened to herself, but where did it leave her… “Evie?” Nadia’s voice, while suddenly distant, sounded really concerned. Evie gave a raspy breath, removed some of her fingers away from her face, and looked to see Nadia was now kneeling down in front of the bed, looking up at her to see what was wrong. Evie cringed. She didn’t knew how to explain this, but wondered if it mattered. Probably didn’t. Maybe this what was needed, for her to seen like this, so pitiful that they, even Nadia, would just abandon her, realise that she deserved to be alone. “It’s okay, we don’t have to talk about it now, we can do it at your own time-” “It’s just… it gets louder… like someone’s shouting at me, and it’s… it’s so bitter…” It took a while for Evie to realise she was the one who was talking, feeling more nervous by the minute. “What is, Evie?” “It’s just… a voice that is telling me no matter what I do… there’s nothing I can do to make anything… better. I hear it, and I try to do things right, but it just fills me with anger, all the time, thinking everyone hates me, or should and… I know I’m probably insane, but I can’t stop it because it’s in my head. It’s me. I just… I just thought I could get it to be quiet,” she gasped out, her breaths quickening and her eyes glazing over with unshed tears. “I just wanted it to be quiet, I know everything it’s saying” When Nadia spoke again, her voice was gentle and insistent. “It’s okay, Evie, it’s more than okay. You’re not insane, I promise, I know that voice, and how manipulating it can be, how much it can suck to hate it, and need it at the same time. But you did really good today. Now that you’ve told me about it, it’s the first step to get it to be quiet. You’ve been bearing this responsibility all to yourself, but you’ve been holding it back so long, the fuse has already been lit. I know your sense of right and wrong tries and stop you from getting help, but I can help you defuse it and show you that getting help is the right thing to do, if that is what you want. Not what you think you deserve, what you want. The ball’s in your court, kid- it won’t hurt to pass it along to someone else from time to time.” Evie didn’t felt she should answer, it was selfish, stupid, pathetic, unimportant… she may never get rid of these negative thoughts, the self-hatred. She thinks back to what her critic has said before, and she can’t help but agree. She should have died a long time ago, done it with no fuss and no worrying anyone else. But where would that leave them? What if Nadia said was true? She is so tired and emotionally wrecked that though a large part of her wanted to remain quiet, she thought of Zac and Leah and only said this: “I still think… I don’t deserve help or love or any of it,” she admitted, looking down at Nadia, briefly focusing on the top of her head before daring herself to look at the older woman’s eyes “… but I don’t want to be feeling this all the time.” “You don’t have to.” “I don’t want to be alone, or... I know that might be selfish of me but…” “You don’t have to,” Nadia repeated, her face gazing up at Evie with pure honesty. “I know we haven’t talked about your suicidal thoughts or feelings yet, because I know you’re not comfortable yet, but I can tell carrying all this weight makes it more easier to give into that. I understand, and so will everyone else. Let me help you find a better way.” “But I haven’t… I haven’t told you everything. Even when I was …when I was talking about work, there was… more than what I was saying, and I kept it all…” “Evie, I never expected you to spill everything on the first session, or the second one, especially giving the emotional gravity of what we were talking about . This is not a process you can or should rush. We need to take every thing that is bothering you, and deal with it one step at a time to make real progress. And that you don’t want to tell me about how you feel about suicide is completely understandable.” “Is it?” Evie said, even though she knew sometimes she couldn’t make sense out of it either, how even when she felt like committing suicide, it was always a conflict of whether or not to do it, if it was easy to do so or so hard to. It felt like both at the same time. She hasn’t even ruled it out yet, because as long as that dark cloud hung over her head, reminding herself of how worthless she was, how much she didn’t deserve life, that would always be an option for her. “Was these last few months the first time, you’ve felt these emotions?” “Yes.” “Then you have never experienced this before, I won’t ask you to explain it when you’re not entirely sure about them yourself. You’ve never talked about them, so while you probably are aware of its presence and what it means, it’s a lot more difficult to make sense out of them. But you get it’s important that we do talk about them, sooner than later. These emotions have been festering deep down for too long; anymore, and they’ll burst beyond the point of repair.” “I know that,” Evie said, though she couldn’t tell if it was still the right thing to do. Either way, she won’t be looking forward to it. She knew that somehow, her self-harm will make its way into the conversation and she didn’t know how she could explain the complex emotions going on there. “And in the sessions before, you’ve given enough without knowing or trying so, that I was able to fit some of the pieces together. This is the first time you’ve talked about how you feel, and that is a major improvement.” “So even when I was trying to keep it to myself, I couldn’t even do that right?” Nadia couldn’t help herself but give an exasperation chuckle. “You certainly don’t want to make things easier for you, do you?” “I don’t want things to be easier for myself, not if it… if it causes problems for other people.” “I can show you that it won’t. You can still have good days again, and if you accept help now, until you are ready to talk about… the darker side of your thoughts, we can think of ways in the meanwhile to keep them at bay. We can think of coping methods, ways of identifying these thoughts and addressing them.” “And what happens once we stop kidding ourselves and realise there is no better way?” Evie asked wearily. “I mean… I’m not naïve, I know even if I do talk about it… it doesn’t solve anything immediately. You can be saying all the logical things and I may not believe it. I’ll still be thinking this stuff, and… I don’t know if I can…do it, and it will all be worth nothing if it ends in…” She didn’t know if she could admit that she meant I don’t know if I can live with myself any longer. Because after talking about it with Nadia, the idea of making amends and making Oscar and Hannah proud- even that felt soured by the fact that they’d never see it in this live- didn’t leave her, and she wondered if that was the right answer. But she still remembered the hatred for herself and how it remains as large as ever, remembered the scars on her arms and how that urge to cut again continues to scratch at her conscious. "What if it ends in more people getting hurt, Zac and Leah getting hurt, or Matt or anyone?" “It doesn’t matter how it ends. No one can know how this ends. And you’re right: I’m not that good, I won’t be able to cure you just like that, even if you tell me everything and I tell you an alternative,” Nadia admitted, knowing it is important to keep the expectations realistic. "This is a process that could take who knows how long. It’s going to take all your time, all the effort you and your loved ones will be able to give it to simultaneously and successfully deal with it, and manage every other aspect of your lives in the meanwhile. You and your recovery is definitely worth a try. Even if I help you with this, and you decide to start on the right path again, you’re not going to get all of it right. There are going to be bad days even when there are good days, I know it’s difficult to trust in anything again,and you won’t be able to do things good for everyone all the time, no more than they can for you. But they want to try, to take the risk not for you- but with you. They can't do that unless you're willing to pitch in as well." Nadia paused and then added. “What’s more important is that, if you do decide to get help, you do it for yourself. You can’t do this just because you think it would please other people, or me. You need to choose this path because you believe it to be right. Yes, for your loved ones, but most importantly, for yourself, so you can find the answers you need. From what I've seen, you're a lot stronger than you give yourself credit for. You take responsibility when others would have try to deflected it, you still care for other people's needs when it would have been a lot easier just to give up entirely, and even though you couldn't muster your best, you still tried. I can say you would be able to endure this as well.” She let Evie absorb that and added. “There’s a line from a show I watched a long time ago, called The West Wing. I don't know if you're religious or not, neither am I, but this line has always stuck with me, because it applies for more than just religion and hopefully it can answer your fear about messing up when it comes to fixing things with the people you still have left: ‘I won’t always know what the right thing is to do, my Lord, but I think the fact that I want to please you… pleases you’.” Evie took this in, and wished she could know where Nadia’s confidence came from. “How are you so sure? That I can try?” “Well, the answer’s simple. You’re still here, aren’t you?” The advice Chris and Olivia gives Matt in this chapter I took from the following websites regarding what to do when helping someone who is self-harming and I will give credit to while writing this chapter: Pieta, Spunout, Mind, Self.com and the Samaritans. If you fear someone you know is self-harming, I would advise you research those sites for extremely essential advice. It's not all perfect, and I know what I've written isn't perfect, but it remains the best a person can do.
  6. Yeah, I did feel uncomfortable about taking this route because I didn't want anything about this to be dramatize, but I still felt it was important to write about her trauma, and at least this way, there are still stuff going on that no one else knows for certain about, and Evie will be able to reveal her issues to them in a better way, because it's still her choice to tell them about it. Evie still feels all these negative feelings, but now, such a small change has brought things into a different light for her, so that next chapter, it may be easier for her to explain things to people. We'll have to wait and see, but it is still up to her to talk about it. Meanwhile, it is important now that people are considering things more from Evie's points of view. It's not their fault that things have gotten this bad, and it isn't Evie's either. Life just happened, and they made both right decisions and wrong decisions. But now, once they'll talk to Evie, find out and understand what is going on with her and why, they'll have better luck making the right decisions and addressing their own problems. Thanks again Red for continuing to follow this story!
  7. Writing this chapter made me fear that I could have gotten things across better. Because yes, Zac, Leah and Matt all want to help Evie, they care about her, but yes also, they made mistakes. They've acted on their frustration and emotions just as much as Evie has, and none of them for the wrong reasons, they haven't been as patient as they should have been. It's not their fault, but they have to acknowledge their mistakes as well just as much as Evie has. This story isn't about 'one right side' and 'one wrong side', I wanted to ensure that none of the main characters got seen as the bad guy, because they're just people suffering. I've seen too many stories about mental health where it's completely one-sided, and I didn't want this story to be about that, and it isn't, because that's not what mental health is about. But I feel as though didn't explain that better, and for that I apologise. Anyway, here's the next chapter and hopefully some answers will be explained. Chapter 17 Mason leaned against the hallway, breathing loudly as he covered his eyes. He knew a job in the medical world wasn’t always going to be pretty, but knowing it and seeing it are entirely different concepts. It was a miracle he was keeping it together, because right now he wanted to fall asleep and forget it all. Except he didn’t think he could do that for a friend. Evie’s upper arms looked like a war zone. The skin was completely red, which Mason could recognise from scratching for some of it at least. He remembered when he was young, a friend of his got so nervous that he would itch and scratch himself until the damage was done. But that wasn’t the only obvious sign of self-destruction- the purple shades surrounding the thin lines around her ravaged skin… obvious signs of self-harm, though whether it was just that or suicide attempts, he couldn’t tell. And right now, he’d be happy not to know. He had looked away for the first time and felt like crying at seeing it. Tori had applied antibiotic cream in order to ensure none of the cuts were infected. Mason had noted that some of them had been washed, in a small attempt to clean them, but just that fact, no matter how small it was, did give Mason a sparkling of hope. Because it would have meant deep down, Evie knew that she had to look after herself, even in a small amount. Because Mason was getting the feeling that she would have hated looking after herself to a big extent. Mason may have been born into perhaps the most pig-headed, argumentative family known to man, but what he was also born into was a family of three other people who have guided and protected him the best they could. Three other people who he loved despite all and he couldn’t imagine his life without. And now, despite not understanding the full concept of life in the Bay, he felt he might collapse under the strain of imagining what Evie must be feeling, losing a twin. It was like being torn apart, though Evie would not think about it that way. It is terrifying to even imagine the distress and hopelessness she must have woken up to everyday, knowing the person she wanted to see the most in the world is no longer there. And as horrifying as he words were- I should be dead- Mason could understand it. Didn’t want to, but did. He knew if he lost his family, all of them, he knew that if they weren’t in this world, he wouldn’t want to be it either. That didn’t make it right for Evie to still be in that mind space though. Right now, Evie was still unconscious on a hospital bed, with a tube attached to her arm to feed her nutrition in order to keep her body up. Tori was still there, arguing with Nate. Both doctors had seen the scars, and were as horrified as Mason was, though were both better at covering it than he was. Tori put the sleeves back on Evie’s arms as soon as she was done applying the cream, still respectful of her patient’s privacy, but Nate wanted to tell Zac what they saw, feeling an obligation to his friend. Mason rarely sided with his sister, but this time he did. Telling someone about someone experiencing self-harm should be the victim’s own choice, regardless of whether or not she would, and Mason could guess that Evie wouldn’t want her family to see her like this. Maybe- an idea that Mason could understand, even though she shouldn't- she’d feel ashamed if they did. He couldn’t put her through that. He walked down the hallway, feeling wobbly at the knees. Maybe he was still frightened at how such a sudden turn the night has gone. Not long ago, he had entertained thoughts of romance- what the hell changed? Jeannie approached her, her eyes as weary as he must look. “How is she?” The obvious answer is not good, not even close to good. Mason didn’t think Evie would be able to see good with a telescope… but she was alive. Thank God for that miracle at least… though Evie wouldn’t, he realised grimly. “She still hasn’t woken up yet, but she’s stable. Her breathing’s evening out, and we got a tube going to make sure she’s getting the proper nutrients.” His voice sounded extremely flat, like he was reading of a piece of paper. Is that how a doctor announces news, good or bad? Is that what they were expected to do? He looked around the hallway and to his alarm, found no sign of Matt. Mason expected Matt to remain right here, in case of any news. “Where’s Matt?” Jeannie indicated towards the other end of the hallway, relief edging on her face. She had decided to stay until Evie was awake. Her friends had already texted her that they’ll take care of her car back at the party, but she wanted to stay, at least for a while. Her parents... she'll deal with that later. “He needed some time on his own, I promised I’ll call him if there was any news…it’s bad.” It wasn’t a question. Even if Jeannie had no medical knowledge, she could tell just by Mason’s dog-worn expression. Mason shrugged. “Whatever we thought it was, it’s worse.” He walked away to where Jeannie had indicated. He needed to talk to Matt, make sure his friend was okay… Mason didn’t know whether or not Matt knew about the cutting, he sure as hell didn’t say anything about it to him… which if he did knew, it was a right call. Mason was honestly praying right now that he did know, that he was trying to work it out with Evie, that Evie hadn’t had experienced this all alone. They had to work something-anything- out of this. They needed to prepare a battle plan, a plan of where to go from here, to improve Evie’s mental health- and make sure their own was still intact. Matt was leaning against one of the walls near the janitor’s door, away from anyone could hear him think. Or cry. His face was all puffy and red, a mixture of anger and sadness. He looked up at Mason’s footsteps. “She’s stable, Tori’s looking after her now. We don’t know when she’ll wake up, but hopefully soon.” Matt nodded listlessly, and held up his phone. “Zac and Leah… they’re on their way. I just….”, Matt looked down, giving a shuddery breath. “I didn’t tell them the full story. I didn’t… I didn’t think it was my place.” Mason nodded understandingly, thinking it was none of their places to talk about it. In the end, it was Evie’s choice to tell them whether or not. That really meant there should be no further conversation on the matter, but Matt asked drowsily, “Did you see… the…” Mason nodded reluctantly, his heart falling at Matt’s dejected face, because he could see that Matt did know. Or at least, knew too late. “When did you…” “I saw the… the scar, when we were setting her up in the car. Her sleeve fell down and…” Matt threw his hands up in the air defeated. He didn’t need to finish the sentence. Mason had to hold back a sigh and closed his eyes which were suddenly stinging. Matt saw one, he didn’t see the rest of the damage Evie did to herself. The scratches, the other scars, most of them unattended. “It’s not good, Matt.” Matt, surprisingly enough, snorted desirously and stood up, facing Mason. “Really? ‘Not Good’? Well I was going to call it more on the lines of ‘nightmarish distressing’, but yeah, ‘not good’ sums it up as well.” Matt was deflecting, Mason guessed, trying to use sarcasm to hide his real feelings. “I know, okay, I know. We just… we just need to work on how we go from here-” “Well, where do we go from here, Mason?!” Matt shouted in response, his full emotions clear on his face now even as he felt his knuckles clench white. He couldn’t bring himself to care right now, not with Evie in a hospital bed. “Because I’m thinking there was stuff I could have done ages ago! Stuff to help her instead of letting her… letting her.” All those times he felt he ought to take more seriously… he was trying to be fun because she wanted to have fun, but that wasn’t the only thing going on at the time and he should have remembered that. Evie was always good at reminding him when he went too far, but her silence made him fear that he did sometimes. In his search for trying to bring things back to normal, he was worried now about missing some clear signs, or else adding to the way she saw herself. “Don’t do this to yourself man,” Mason said, his own jaw clenching at the idea. “Don’t think about putting this on yourself. No one’s to be blamed for this. It’s just one big mess, but we have to find a way out of it…” “How?! Tell me how please! You saw what she did to herself! She… she doesn’t care what happens to her, she… she doesn’t feel she deserves to be alive…she could have tried to done it any time before, she wouldn’t be thinking about Zac or Leah or me… she wanted to be dead, how the hell do you stop that?”, Matt’s voice cracked at that last word and had to turn away so Mason wouldn’t see his tears. Mason felt a deathly silence falling down on the two of them, Matt’s words echoing in his head like a harsh bell. “It’s not her fault, Matt,” he said quietly and assuredly, even though he knew Matt knew this, even in his rush of anger. Matt looked back, his face a mask of horror as he collapsed back at the seat. “I know that… I know that…” he said, and it was the truth. Even though he was horrified at what he saw, he wouldn’t even dream about blaming Evie, not when she was still suffering, not for something like this. This wasn’t like something Josh or Hunter did, this was an entirely different situation. “All this time… we could have lost her…” the full length of that possibility was entering his mind, and it squeezed down the tidal wave of frustration and anger in him, leaving only fear. Horrible, unthinkable (yet he was thinking them all the same) scenarios were running in his head, all those times he see Evie walk away… now all he could think about were any one of those moments could have been the last he ever saw of her alive. “But we didn’t, okay,” Mason told him, sitting down next to him, his own mind refusing to accept the possibility of an alternative. “We didn’t lose her, she’s going to wake up soon, and we’re gonna fix this and we’re going to convince her to help us as well, for all our sakes. Hold onto that thought.” Matt leaned his head back against the wall. Because yeah, Mason may have the answer right now, but, as with so many other things in life, better said than done. This was not going to be dealt with in a night, or a week. “You know… I knew she missed them… I knew she was still grieving for them, whether or not she knew that… but she… she wanted to be dead… she thought it was all her fault… what happened to Oscar…to Hannah…” Mason rested his chin on his hands, breathing heavily and pinching his temple. He didn’t knew that until now, didn’t think about what Evie said before she passed out, but she feared it. He was confused why she would come to the conclusion about her own fault, and by Matt’s look, Mason knew Matt was trying to figure it out. Deep down, of course, Mason seriously doubted it was Evie’s fault, but there could be no denying she did feel that way, and did for a very long time now. “Do…do you have any idea why she reacted that way at the party?” he asked, looking for somewhere to start putting the pieces together. Matt shuddered at that thought but answered anyway. “The fire… the fire that broke out at the barbecue… she must have seen it… it… it must have brought back the memory of… what happened that day… the day Oscar and Hannah died…” Mason quickly looked back to Matt, slowly putting the pieces together. He knew Evie’s brother had died in an explosion, but beyond that he didn’t knew the full extent of what happened, or if whether or not… he never considered the idea that Evie had been there, had always believed that she wasn’t there when it happened. “Matt, are you saying that…she was there at the caravan park?” Matt nodded reluctantly, looking grimly at Mason’s growingly alarmed face. “It was a fundraiser for the hospital, and… I can’t be sure but… the last thing I remember seeing Evie before the explosion… she was dancing with Oscar and then…God, Mason, what if… what if Evie actually saw him…” Matt buried his face in his hands again, exhaling deeply and unable to finish his sentence, leaving Mason in horror at the implications. It was bad enough lose a sibling, but the idea of seeing them die right before your eyes, in such a violent way… It was all beginning to make sense, the constant look of helplessness on her face, her feelings that she didn’t deserve help, the look of complete panic at the party when things turned bad. It was all relieving traumatic memories, memories that would have prevented her from being assured or confident about… anything. What if all of her behaviour had been symptoms of PTSD? However, while this new was already troubling information, there was something bugging him. In her distressed state, Mason heard Evie muttering ‘I have to find him’. Back then, Mason thought she was referring to only Matt, but now... “But if she did… then why would she want to be looking for him?”, Mason asked, his voice daring to shed a bit of hope. There wasn’t much he can do to assure Matt right now, but it could be a small comfort at least. Matt looked up at his friend, and realised what he was saying. He remembered Evie in absolute fear mode that night, desperately looking for Oscar. She either never saw Oscar die and had held onto the ever-slipping hope that he was still alive, just trapped under the wreckage like Roo and Maddy were, or had but suppressed that in the hope of finding him. Matt honestly couldn’t decide which was worse, because that hope, real or not, wouldn’t have changed anything for Oscar or Evie that night. “It doesn’t make much of a difference though whether or not she did see it? Not now anyway, she’s still suffering!” Matt pointed out. Mason nodded wearily. “I know, but at least… we ought to know what we have to be prepared for.” He shook his head, his curls bouncing against each other as he did so. “If we knew this before, we never would have even considered taking her to that party…” It was Matt’s turn to assure his mate now, putting his hand on Mason’s shoulder. “We didn’t know. I don’t know even Evie knew how to explain it. She wouldn’t want us to blame ourselves. Remember what you said, no one’s to be blamed for this,” he said, before adding with a snort. “Apart from Andy Barrett and Wayne Snelgrove, that is. And Josh. I mean… she was… recovering, if you could even call it that, at least that what it seemed that way. And she wasn’t just looking after herself, y’know. When there was trouble with Maddy… Evie was the one to find her again. She had may have been learning to live with… what happened, if you actually could. When he left though… when she found out what he did… it all seemed to regress back, you know, and things went worse from there, even if it didn’t seem like it.” Matt shook his head, because now was not the time to be thinking about Josh. This wasn’t about him. He knew that he still felt guilty not only for not realising what was wrong sooner, but the false assumptions he made. He knew Evie didn’t give him much to go on and it had hurt, but he still made those speculations. He needed to apologise to her, quickly. Besides, he had further questions. “I… I had a bit of trouble sleeping the night after… Roo and Maddy… they had a lot to process and they had… they had nightmares about that night. I don’t think that could have been avoided in any case, but… the way Evie reacted. It was… more extreme than I thought would happen.” Mason shrugged. “People experience the after effects of… events like that, in different ways. Evie had been through the same thing as you all have, but… with the grief she experienced, that would have compounded on top of the trauma… creating like a toll ten times worse for her.” Matt felt that made sense, and he was both grateful and admiring of Mason’s steady, encouraging voice. He’ll certainly make a great doctor someday. However, it didn’t make it any more easy to hear. Matt didn’t know how he can help here, especially with Evie so determined not to listen to it. Now…even though he doesn’t understand why she would feel guilty, why she believed she should… he can kind of get why she wouldn’t let herself believe his assurances, not with all this emotional mess hanging over her head. Why she couldn’t let herself trust that. “I know… seeing how hopeless she looked and sounded, the guilt, not believing things would get better… that’s depression, isn’t it? That’s some of the basics, isn’t it?” Matt asked, hating what the probable answer was going to be. When Mason nodded, Matt had to keep from closing his eyes in despair. “How are we supposed to fight that?” Mason did have an answer to that as well. He just wished it was a definite one. “I don’t know, but… it’s Evie’s fight. We have to help her fight, we… we need to ask her what she needs, we can’t assume anything about this. That’s caused enough problems as it is.” “But why would she want to tell us? Wouldn’t she… just see that as bad? She believes that she doesn’t deserve our help, or feel better, and it’s all driving back to what happened to her, so much that she refuses to even consider what happened to her.” Matt gave a bitter chuckle at that, realising… “That kind of makes sense.” Mason looked at him confusedly, prompting Matt to answer. “Evie… Evie’s extremely moral, y’know. She see things as black and white, and she… she has no time for people who do really bad things. It’s why she refused to see Josh after he admitted to killing Charlotte, she couldn’t forgive what he did to Zac. But… if she thinks she has done harm, she wouldn’t forgive herself either. She wouldn’t let herself. So if we try and ask, why would she want to tell us?” Mason sighed, trying to hide the fact that he had no answer to this, but turns out he didn’t have to: Tori came running down the other end of the hallway, coming to a stop as soon as she saw Matt and Mason sitting down. “Evie’s okay,” she started, already noting the alarmed faces on both boys. “I just wanted to tell you that Zac and Leah have already arrived, they’d probably want to know what happened.” Tori looked more specifically at Mason at that point. He had been the one to inform Tori of Evie’s health troubles as they arrived at the hospital, and she didn’t exactly knew what to tell Zac and Leah without potentially breaking patient-doctor confidentiality. This was an extremely different case, because the patient was unconscious before informing the doctor, but after seeing the self-harm evident on the poor girl’s arms, Tori could guess from experience that she wouldn’t want Zac and Leah to know. “Thanks, Tori,” Mason said. He stood up, but looked down again when Matt remained sitting, deep in thought and still looking extremely upset. Mason tugged on his shoulder before Matt looked up at him. “Uh… yeah,” Matt nodded absent-mindedly, and stood up with him. Tori turned around and walked to the hallway, with Matt and Mason following her, slowly, as if they were unsure of their own steps. “I’m scared.” Matt wasn’t aware that he spoke until five seconds after he heard his own words. It didn’t sound like him, it sounded… well, it sounded exactly how he felt… really scared. He had never admitted that before, that he was scared. Of what exactly he wasn’t sure, whether it was talking to Zac and Leah, seeing Evie frail (which was so not like Evie), unconscious and trapped, or what was going to come soon enough. There was nothing Mason could reply to that with. He had to tell Zac and Leah what happened, and what was potentially going on with Evie, but he didn’t think he would stay for long, especially with Evie not in any life-threatening situation. He ought to leave, knowing he needed the space to get through what happened, it all seemed too much to think about here. He had given Evie the space he thought she needed before. “I… I think I need to go to the bathroom,” he mumbled, trying to get ahead of his emotions before he had to talk about it and walked in the direction that Tori indicated. Honestly, Matt didn’t think he could leave. Not with Evie stuck in a bed, unmoving and not knowing what was going on around her, but still in excruciating pain even if she wasn’t conscious. Matt looked around the hallway, and felt a strong sense of dread about this whole building. He couldn’t leave Evie now, even if it was only for a few minutes, even if she begged him to leave, even if Mason tried to drag him out. Evie may have pushed away, but now he knew why she thought she had to, which was why he couldn’t let her think that anymore. He had left her alone before, he won’t do it again. “Do you think he’ll be okay?” Tori asked Mason as they both stared after Matt, stepping so uncertainly, as if at any moment the floor will disappear in front of him. “Well, not okay, but… he’ll get through it. He wants to focus on helping Evie, as far as he’s concerned, that’s all he needs to do.” It didn’t feel like a straight answer, but it was the closest Mason has. “Okay, we… I’ve got bandages over the scars and the sleeves are over them. I don’t think Evie will appreciate us letting Zac and Leah see that while she was out,” Tori told Mason in her professional voice pushing down any bit of strain she felt, after seeing so much self-destruction done to a person. It was something that she was long accustomed to, no matter how horrible the scene looks like. She had to, because it was a sign she was keeping it together, and she had to keep it professional, or else the job would have killed her a long time ago. “I can have a pysch consultant on standby, in case she doesn’t tell them. She’s got to speak about them to someone… Mason, do you think she’ll tell them?” Mason shrugged helplessly. He honestly couldn’t tell, he even doubted that Evie would know what she would do right now when she woke up. As for speaking to a counsellor… Mason had come to know Evie rather well, when they were actually speaking a while ago. He knew she was a big fan of art, loved going to the gym, all these little things about her that she shared, but not in great detail…but Mason didn’t have a great tell on her if she was the type of person to share her feelings with a stranger, no matter how qualified. “Let’s go, then,” Tori said with a sigh, already heading down the hallway before Mason realised he wasn’t following. “Tori, wait,” he called out after been taken controlled by an impulse, rushing up to her. Tori looked around, her eyes raised inquisitively. “What, do you remember anything el-” She was cut off by Mason suddenly tugging her into a tight hug, holding her close. He couldn’t explain that impulse, but after tonight, he just felt the heartfelt need to find the closest sibling he found and hold them close. It took a while for them to break apart, and Tori looking at her brother with a look that was half kind and half perplexed. “You okay?”, she asked delicately, looking at her brother, carefully. “Yeah, I just… I just needed to do that,” Mason admitted, red-faced with embarrassment, but before he could explain his impulse, Tori playfully pressed her hand against his shoulder, giving him a smile that said she knew all he wanted to say. “You wanna go home or…?” “No, I think if I go home now, I’ll drive myself, Justin, Brody and Buddy crazy while not knowing what was going on,” Mason told her. He didn’t know whether or not he meant that as a joke, because no time tonight felt like the right time for a joke, but Tori’s smile turned into a sharp grin as she turned away. Mason knew it was more than that though, because right now he had a duty to a friend. ----- Zac stepped up to the caravan and using the key Alf gave him, opened the door to Evie’s caravan. He stood inside, look at the cold interior of it, and sighed. When Matt called Leah and Zac, urgently telling them that Evie was in hospital after having collapsed, they dropped everything and rushed over there. Evie had suffered an extreme panic attack after going to a party, and whatever Zac had expected, it had been much worse than he feared- Matt thought she was experiencing flashbacks to that day Oscar and Hannah died, that some stupid accident that happened at the party set off her triggers. Zac knew Evie was stuck in a state of depression after losing them, but he never thought she’d be experiencing post-traumatic stress as a result of it. Zac knows the statistics: about 7 or 8 people out of every 100 people would experience PTSD at some point in their life, and not everyone who goes through a dangerous and traumatic event will develop it. It will still affect them, but for some people it will be worse. The factor of the personal losses would have made it ten times worse for Evie. The idea of her relieving what happened that day horrified Zac, and he couldn’t help but think that would have led to her feelings of hopelessness and stress… her constant belief that she was doing a bad job at work, with the stress piling onto her, making her double-guess herself in a way Zac had never seen her do before. And the nightmare… Zac couldn’t say for sure she had more than one after that time he had walked onto her having the nightmare, but there were other nights, when he heard gasping from her room, and walked towards her room, slowly looking to see if she was alright or if she needed his assistance. But when he got close, he could only hear deep breathing. If she had been keeping having nightmares, about that day, (as he had initially feared but kept down because that loss was bearing too much on him for him to focus on it), she must have been hiding it too well. That she felt she had… it tore away at Zac, eating away at him ferociously, mercilessly. What added to that fear was the icy feeling he felt the moment he walked into Evie’s hospital room. Tori and Nate’s warnings had never been enough to prepare him for the ghostly sight of Evie lying there, her face looked a mixture of pale and purple red with bruises, and that sight frightened Zac, because he hated the idea of her in pain. Her breaths were coming out gently, easy, no signs of strain or labour, and for that Zac was grateful, so at least she was peaceful. If he didn’t know better, he’d swear Evie was napping. Zac knew that sometimes, ever since this happened, he hadn’t been as patient with Evie as he wanted to. He knew he was experiencing his own losses, and wanted to be able to look after his own family, and the idea that Evie wouldn’t let him help her, the way she didn’t want any help when she so obviously needed it, made him feel angry. He got himself worked up by fear and frustration and doubt that everyday didn’t make any difference. He hoped that talking to Nadia would help, but nothing changed. When his frustration didn’t cloud things for him, he knew it wasn’t easy for her to talk about it, and Zac could tell that Evie didn’t want to make other people deal with her problems, as if she would only make things worse. He hated the idea of her feeling guilty over things she had no control over, but he was so insistent in trying to get her out of that dark place she found herself in, that he never tried to truly understand why she would think that. Of course he gets the idea of feeling responsible for not seeing someone they love for who they are, it’s how he felt about Hunter and would continue to feel if it wasn’t for Leah, Evie and everyone else. But everything else, Evie’s insistence that they ought to stop looking after her, the belief that she had to hide it all in… he was too focused on figuring out how to help someone he loved, Zac didn’t stop to think about why. He hoped that by getting her out of it, he could understand why. But maybe it didn’t work like that. Even though not being open about it didn’t make anything better, Zac could tell she wasn’t trying to hurt anyone, and probably did believe it was for the best, but that was not what this whole thing was about. Zac couldn’t understand why she would feel like she would only make things worse, especially around her own family. She was so much more than just some obligation. He loved her not because he had to, he loved her because he did, and he had to help her because he loved her. That never meant he’d be unwilling to do so. He never got rid of that fear that she thought otherwise, that unintentionally all he did was further encourage her to push herself away, but whatever it was, it wasn’t the important thing now. Evie was still out in the hospital, and Tori suggested the best Zac could do right now was go get some clothes for Evie when she wakes up. Leah and Matt remained, and Matt looked so heartbroken and stricken that Zac was now worried something else had happened. Matt didn’t offer any other information when he told them what happened, however. Zac had tried to push him, but Leah, who could tell Matt’s body language better than Zac, persuaded him not to do so. It had been the same with Evie, Zac refused to push her in case she’d explode, until he realised he had to, to get her to open up. He opened up a couple of the drawers and selected some of the clothes, what he felt Evie would prefer, and stacked them in a suitcase. Looking around, he was struck at how empty the entire caravan felt. The suitcases Evie took with her when she left remained stacked together, unopened. The only things he could find present in the caravan were stuff that Evie would need for work, jumbled up together. It was as if she just took them along for convenience. At least it will be quick, because he needed to get back to the hospital quickly. It was then Zac noticed a letter, neatly folded up on the corner of the table, with the words highlighted in noticeable red ‘For Zac’. Even from here, Zac could recognise Evie’s handwriting. He moved over to the table and picked it up. He sat down on the couch and opened the letter, reading it in a subconscious state of apprehension. Zac, I remember the first time I saw you in more than… maybe 10 years, the day you walked into that cult to try and talk some sense through Ethan. You… you could tell something was up even after all the assurances our dad gave you, that… that I gave you. Looking back at that day now, I knew that you were the type of person who would never give up when anyone was in trouble, no matter… no matter what they’ve done. I’m not saying you should stop trying, not only because I know you wouldn’t, but you should still try and help people. The kids at school, people looking for a fresh start… out of everyone who could do everything possible to help them, you’d be the one to do it. But even someone as… as hopeful, as frustratingly dedicated as you, has to realise that not everyone can be fixed. That is not because of some failing in you, that’s… that’s just who some people are, completely unsavable. I know these past few months… they’ve been hell for you. Yet you remain insistent and willing to try and help me, to try and get back to whatever I was before. The problem with that, Zac, is that I am one of those people who can’t be fixed. I don’t deserve you, your kindness or anything other that made you the kind of person anyone would hope to be like, and I never will. I have never forgotten the struggles I put on you the moment I agreed to live with you and Hannah at the farmhouse, and yet, no matter how much I tried, that hasn’t changed. I just made things worse, all the time, and I know you’re really mad, you’ve pushed way past your limit, and you can’t bear the burden of having to deal with me and my mood every single day, but at least now you won’t have to deal with it, not anymore. I couldn’t talk about whatever was going on with me, because I knew how difficult everything was for everyone and I didn’t want to make things worse. Whatever was going on with me was my own problem, I refused to make it anyone else’s. And… that felt right at least, it was something I should do, because no one should ever make the people they love be dragged down with their own problems, problems that only I held responsibility for. But overtime… things just seemed to be getting worse. You and everyone else only seemed to be getting more worried and more frustrated, and I kept snapping at you, and that wasn’t fair on you. I felt so horrible for being distant, for going off every other moment, but I couldn’t stop it. You were just trying to understand, and I was just filled with anger… all the time. I couldn’t tell myself it was the right thing to do anymore, because I wasn’t sure if I believed it. I didn’t know if I was keeping it all in in order to protect myself from it, because it all seemed too scary. I couldn’t trust myself to do the right thing, because I knew I did the wrong thing so many times before, more than anyone should. I didn’t want to hurt you or anyone else, I know I’m asking a lot for you to believe that, and in the large scheme of things it doesn’t matter in the slightest but I wasn’t. I wanted you guys to be happy, but overtime, it just felt impossible for things to be that way as long as I was around. I know you keep insisting that what Josh did wasn’t my fault, but it was. I could have stopped him before you were ever sent to prison, and that was mine to atone for. I let him hurt you. Overtime I realised it was a lot more than that. Josh was never considered to be a suspect in Charlotte’s murder in the first place because Tank blinded him. I let Tank into our lives, and I let him attack Josh, almost killed him. Maybe if I listened to you from the beginning, it would never happen. Maybe Josh wouldn’t have killed in the first place. But it all trailed downwards from there, like a chain reaction leading to destruction, because Carter set you up for a crime you never committed, you would never have seen Tank again, Andy wouldn’t have fought him and… and Oscar and Hannah wouldn’t be dead. I’m responsible for the death of my own brother, my twin, the person I was supposed to protect at all times. I’m responsible for the death of my aunt, the person who had helped look after us since we were kids. I may not have set off the explosion but I might as well have. Because of my stupidity and my recklessness, I hurt so many people and there was nothing I could do to stop it before it was too late. I’m more than just a horrible, terrible person because of it, I’m a monster because of it. I should have died that day. On the extremely unlikely case that you didn’t already knew this and you were just putting up with me because… for some reason, I should have told you this face to face. You had to have known, you didn’t have to put up with me. I should have been honest with you from the get go, because I have felt this guilt for too long for me to be quiet about it, and at least if you did know, you would truly understand it. But, I was too cowardly to say it. You, Chris, Roo, Matt, you all lost someone you loved because my actions sparked off all this… this mess and I couldn’t tell you the truth about my own responsibility. I was hanging around you all, and… you all meant so much to me that I felt like trying to be happy, but that would mean acting as if I didn’t feel this responsibility and that was so wrong of me. Maybe I was looking for a way to atone for what I did, or didn’t do, as if I believed that everything could be… not great, but okay again. But… there is no forgiving that, there is no forgiving me letting the people I loved, the people I was supposed to look after, die. And it was wrong of me to use you guys as a way to try and make amends. I should have left a long time ago, I should have died a long time ago, long before I caused all this misery, if I wanted to make sure you and everyone was safe. There was no other solution to any of this, at least not any other one that would be fair to you, to Leah, to Matt, to everyone else. I was too dangerous to be around and if I stayed, all would end up was that you would end up getting hurt again, perhaps next time to the point of no recovery. I messed up too many times before, but I will not do it again, and especially not to you. I could barely live with myself with what I have already done, holding for some selfish need, because you don’t need me, no one needs me- I definitely couldn’t live with myself if any more bad things happened to the last people I truly love. None of it was fair, the way I was still breathing, the way you kept on insisting to give help that I didn’t deserve, the way me, a person who has done so much bad than good with what life gave them, who steals boyfriends, sleeps with murderers and lets actually good people pay the price for her sins, kept walking through life unscathed. It’s like something that comes out of a horrendously bad comedy… Zac couldn’t physically read the rest of the letter, his vision becoming clouded with tears to focus on any of it. The tears came as a unfounded, harsh relief, because Zac didn’t know if he could see anymore of this, even though he felt he ought to. Finally he understood, he could see why she was stuck in that cycle of pain. It was never that she didn’t want to be helped- it was that she didn’t deserve it. She honestly felt that she didn’t deserve to live, that what happened to Oscar and Hannah was her fault. It was awful enough that she believed she should be blamed for what Josh did, but to try and make a connection between that and her own family… her own losses… He collapsed against the seat behind him, tears running freely down his cheeks as he gulped down sobs. He buried his face in his hands, honestly wishing he could just forget the whole thing, that it was all just a long, nightmarish dream and he would wake up in his bed, and Leah would be there, and Oscar and Hannah would be still be alive, and Hunter, his own son, wasn’t a criminal, and Evie hadn’t been suffering like this… She wanted to kill herself. Zac could read between the lines. This was a suicide note. If anything went differently tonight, he might have never seen Evie again. If he had known this before, he would have never let her leave the house, never let her be so alone and dealing with this alone. Giving a person space was all well and good, but not enough when that person’s mental state had fallen so low that they actually believed they were a threat to other people. Evie’s insistence on being alone… it was more than just avoiding the pressure such emotional trauma gives a person, she actually believed the people she loved was better off without her. Zac felt she just let everything inside her build up and up until it was all too much. Zac had marvelled before at how much she tried to keep a positive energy after all she had to endure, but if she felt she shouldn’t be positive, if she shouldn’t enjoy life, that she was wrong to do so… so much of her behaviour was making more sense, and not in any way that felt good. That she thought of herself as some kind of burden for the rest of them broke his heart. Even as he was crying, Zac regretted his frustration just as much as Evie clearly did in her letter. Both of them let their own emotions cloud their logic, and yeah Zac couldn’t have known it gotten this far, but he regretted his harshness even more than he did before. He never wanted her to feel ashamed about anything she did since Josh left, right or wrong. What Evie said about not knowing when she should have known, the feeling of letting down someone they love… Zac understood that now more than ever. Zac just felt so….unbearably pained at how much anguish she must have gone through, all this time, carrying a burden of anguish and guilt and self-loathing. Hatred for responsibilities she thought she failed at. Hatred for her own handling of her relationships. Hatred for suffering she thought she’d caused. It was like a void opened up inside him, numbing him. Did she feel like this… all the time? He wiped away his tears as he took deep breaths to calm himself. Neither of them handled this in the ideal way, but it stopped now. It had to stop. No judgement, no more frustration, he will help Evie get through this, whether she accepted his help or not. Zac knew it was more difficult than that though, she has to learn that it was okay…not to be okay on some days, that it was okay to lean on people. That, in a way, it was stronger to lean on people than keep standing on your own. He knew it would be difficult, but he’d be willing to do anything if it would help her. More than that, though, she needed to know she wasn’t a burden, she wasn’t someone they had to put up with. Evie and Oscar… taking them in was the best thing that ever happened to Zac, it helped gave him a family, one that he always wanted. What happened to Oscar was never her fault, and he would do anything to make her see that. It won’t be easy, he knew it won’t, but he will not lose her. He didn’t want to lose her in any way, but especially not like this. But first, he had to make a call, he had to talk to someone who, right now, may have the key to help him understand. ----- “Thanks for meeting me,” Zac told Nadia as they met outside the hospital. “I could tell it was urgent,” Nadia said as they both sat down on the bench. And by looking at Zac now, she could see on Zac’s face confirmation that it was. His eyes were red as if he had just been crying and beyond that, he looked completely devastated. “So maybe it’s best that we cut to the chase then. Firstly, how is she?” Zac nodded anxiously. “She’s… I don’t know if I used the word okay, but she’s alive. They suggested I give her a few minutes before I can see her. I was at her caravan getting some clothes for her, and…”, he handed Nadia the letter he found. He watched as she read further down it, the light in her eyes dying a little, and she physically inhaled at the spot he was definitely sure he started crying at. “Zac…” Nadia shook her head, some hair escaping the tight bun she made as she got up. She had dealt with suicidal cases like this before, and each one was a messy affair. No one was happy to hear their loved one going through something like this, but Nadia knew it was necessary to know so they could prepare to help their loved one. Zac knew this, which was why he called her, and was why she, despite how late it was, answered. She could tell Evie was in a depressed state, but she had hoped that things haven’t gotten this bad for that girl. “I’m sorry. There’s nothing else I can say.” Zac nodded, acknowledging the helplessness he felt for the first time. He remained determined to try and see why Evie was behaving the way she was, but now that he did… he wasn’t sure what he should feel. He had to know, he wanted to know, but he couldn’t be glad that all of this was happening, that this was how he found out. “I don’t know if this was breaking client confidentiality, but… did she ever…” Nadia could see the tense fear in his eyes and sympathised with her old friend completely, but she had to be careful about what to say. She still had a duty of confidentiality towards Evie, the only thing that would remove that responsibility would be illegal activity or an immediate threat to life. “She never gave off any suicidal tendencies during our sessions, but her guilt regarding her brother and aunt… she never directly said she felt that.” Zac felt his own breath on edge, as if he was just seconds away from shattering. “But… but did she give any implication’s that how she felt about it?” Nadia shook her head. “I asked, but she never directly said that,” she repeated sadly. She knows Zac understands and respects Evie’s right in this regard, but she’s also aware that doesn’t make it any easier for him. Zac’s hands folded into fists and he rested his chin on top of them. “I just… I don’t see how she could think that she was ever responsible for what… what happened… she’s drawing a connection together when there was none…do you remember that saying we were thought in economics… Post hoc ergo propter hoc…” Nadia nodded. “ ‘After this, therefore because of it’. The oldest believe in the book, despite the fact that it’s hardly ever true.” “I know that, and it’s not true here!” Zac insisted, feeling increasingly agitated. “Evie… she had no control over what Josh or Tank or Andy did, she… family means the world to her and that she thinks she caused their deaths…” Zac understood why she no longer took any more satisfaction in her work now, or why she kept thinking she failed. She would never see it as enough compared to the tremendous amount of guilt she had been feeling all this time. “Zac, I know that, you know that. And deep down, maybe Evie knows this as well.” Zac looked up at her in confusion and almost outrage, causing Nadia to elaborate. “We both know that Evie’s guilt is real, she is feeling that guilt, I’m not trying to downplay what’s going on with her. But do you think she could realistically truly believe that she is responsible for everything that happened?” Zac thought about considerably, and he guessed he could tell what Nadia meant. Evie was a smart kid, logically trying to form a connection between events with so much time in between them… wasn’t logical at all. He didn’t answer the question but Nadia could tell by the look on his face what he was thinking. “She probably doesn’t, but in her mind, it is the only logical reason she could find for feeling what she does. She has to find something that could explain why she felt that guilt, that pain, something that made sense in her eyes and fuel that sense of self-hatred.” “But why?” Zac asked desperately, aware his eyes were watering again. “Why would she feel that? Why would she want to increase those feelings of self-hatred?” Nadia had the answer. She was going to bring it up with Evie during their next session, just seeing if she could try and reach out to the girl before seeing if she needed to recommend more sessions. It was not an easy answer, but it was the closest she felt she had to the truth. “Firstly, it’s nothing to do with what she wants. She doesn’t think about any of this in terms of what she wants, even if she thinks it’s so. And the answer she feel she has to: Survivor’s guilt. Think about it Zac, she walked away from a life-threatening situation where her brother, the one person whom she loved more than anything else, was killed, while she walked away unscathed. How would that make you feel?” Zac hated being forced to think about this, because Nadia was right: the very idea of it was completely unbearable. What made him hate it more was that was probably what Evie felt as well. And what made it even more nauseating was that it was a life-threatening situation for Evie as well. It was only a miracle that Andy and Tank’s stupidity didn’t kill more. “It would have… have made all her problems seem completely pointless- in her own view.” Nadia nodded sympathetically. “And she felt she had to accept the idea that she was responsible, because… when you called me, all that time ago, you told me she was doubting herself. She didn’t want to believe it, but she couldn’t just not believe it, because she couldn’t take the chance that she could be wrong, which could lead to further disasters. And she couldn’t be able to face the alternative.” “Which is what?” “That there are some things in this life that happen out of our control. We can plan for everything, hoping everything will turn out alright and sometimes, but life can throw all those plans into the wind. And we can’t control that, Evie can’t control that.” Nadia believed in all of that, and had hoped to say all this to Evie, as long as she had given Nadia a window to sneak all this information into, but then Zac kept on talking as if he was making sense out of all of it as he talked more. “I thought that she just pushed it all aside to try to not let it affect her, not let it affect her relationships with… me and Leah and everyone else around her. But… if she just keeps ignoring it, it would control everything about her.” That’s the ironic thing about feelings, Zac thought. You try and ignore them and they become more apparent than you would like. “But what if… if she was never aware of how important what was going on with her because she didn’t felt she deserved help.” “You want my opinion? It was probably both. She must have known what the problems with her mental state were important, or at least she knew they were there. By the looks of what she wrote here, she was determined not to ensure anyone else didn’t have to deal with something that to her wasn’t worth dealing with if it got you or anyone else hurt. And she gave into that little voice in her head that it wasn’t important, until it gotten big enough that it became also about pouring as much punishment onto herself as possible.” “That’s not her choice to make,” Zac pointed out. Right now, it was hardly the most important thing, not with Evie in her current state, but it still mattered enough. Evie may wanted to protect him and everyone else from what was going on with her, but she wasn’t the only one with a say in that. No matter how stubborn she was, no matter how much he had missed before, he loved her. He wasn’t going to stand by and let her… let her die. “I… I know she wasn’t trying to hurt any of us, but…” “But you get hurt either way,” Nadia accepted. “You’re right, she shouldn’t have kept it all hidden, but would you hold that against her?” “No,” Zac said immediately and certainly. “This isn’t… this isn’t some usual thing of someone keeping private things from their family, this is… this is about her, her own life. I won’t hold that against her, I just… I just want to make sure she was okay.” Deep down, despite his worry and frustration, that was all he wanted. Evie had tried to do the same for him… Two months before… Zac sat down heavily on the chair outside in the porch, completely overwhelmed with disbelief, anger and grief. He had just came back from the cop station and came back with a heavier heart than when he entered. He had come in to try and find out what happened to Hunter after he was arrested for attacking Andy, only to be met by Kat with the news that Hunter had confessed to the robbery of the diner from a year ago. Zac had already felt dread when he heard the news, but now he had to deal with this awful, latest information, information that he knew was so closely connected to Denny’s death… He heard a noise behind him and looked up to see Evie standing behind him. He had told them of what he had learned about Hunter and their reactions were as expected: Leah was devastated at this news, as if she could see the pain it was clearing causing Zac and regret that someone who she accepted with great difficulty let his family down again, Alf was all in a rage, and given his personal relationships to Marilyn and Denny it was hardly surprising, Evie… Zac could see the anger clear on her face, at her narrowed eyes and mouth tugged in a firm line, at the implication that Hunter could have known about Denny and did nothing, but she simmered it all down to short, bitter questions, but Zac could see her keeping her anger down regardless, because she saw how much this was hurting him. Zac didn’t see that anger now in her, he saw apprehension and sadness clear on her face, which was probably mirroring his own expression. He knew it wasn’t easy for her, and now he began to recognise her pain to having to see Josh arrested, awaiting his trial without bail. Just like Hunter was right now. “Hey, you okay?” Zac asked, rising up on his seat. Evie nodded uncertainly, as if to say ‘kind of but not really’. He nodded, trying to find something good to talk about before the conversation drifted towards Hunter. “So, you got the applications for the work placement ready?” Evie’s eyes shot up and there was a slimmer of light before she nodded. “Yeah, I… I got them all set up,” she told him, talking about the papers she needed to prepare for when she began working at the school soon enough. “That’s good, I know you’ll be a great addition to the team,” he smiled gently at her, meaning every word. Silence fell after she nodded gently with a smile of her own. Finally Evie’s hesitant voice broke through it. “I know what you’re thinking Zac, and… it’s not your fault.” Zac took a deep breath and sighed out, leaning back into his seat again exhaustedly. Evie must have seen the guilt he was feeling clear on his face. He just couldn’t get rid of the idea that he failed, failed Hunter for not making him realise that he couldn’t keep acting out in violent anger, failed his son for making him realise the better way and truly confessing everything he does, and failed the rest of his family for not seeing what Hunter had done. God, what would Denny think? “It’s just…it just feels like all a mess, and Hunter knew, he knew all along and he didn’t tell any of us.” He shuddered a breath in despair, not crying but he felt that was mostly because of the shock more than anything else. Evie walked towards him and sat down softly on the edge of the seat. She took hold of his hand and gripped it gently. He looked up at her again and she rested her other arm on his shoulder. The same way he did when she found out that Josh killed Charlotte. “You did everything, to give Hunter a better chance at life. If he couldn’t rise up to do right by you, then that’s only his fault. You couldn’t have known, please, please don’t blame yourself.” Zac could hear the same words he had told Evie so many times after what happened to Josh. Of all the things right now, the last thing she deserved was to deal with that guilt, but he appreciated it all the same. He knew deep down he couldn’t have known, but he felt ashamed all the same. Reaching up, he brought Evie down into a hug that both probably needed, each taking comfort around each other’s arms. Evie burrowed her face into his shoulder at the same time Zac breathed in the scent of her hair, holding her close. He just felt so grateful to have Evie and Leah trying to help him through this, and he was determined to do the same for them. He will not let anything else bad happen to them, he will look after them. Well, look how that ended. He just wanted to give back and look after her, and look how that ended. “I didn’t do enough,” he muttered shamefully. “No, you didn’t,” Nadia agreed reluctantly. “You know I don’t sugar-coat it, you could have understood it more from where Evie was coming from, but at the same time, she didn’t make it easy for you to understand either.” Zac knew Nadia was right but that didn’t stop the wave of guilt he felt. Because he could have tried harder to understand Evie’s plight. “I…I thought she was drinking, she came back home one night… Alf said she was dizzy and he thought she had vomited… I asked her if she was drinking and she didn’t deny it… she didn’t outright admit it but she didn’t deny it… if she wasn’t… why wouldn’t she say that. I… I know what that road is like and it doesn’t do any good, and I didn’t want her to go the same road I did, but it was so much worse… why couldn’t I see it?” He was so focused on dealing with some problems, he couldn’t see the other ones. “Did she tell you straight out she wasn’t?” “No, but-” “Then why would you think otherwise? As the doctors say, when you hear hoofs, you don’t think zebras. Maybe it didn’t help her, but not because you knew otherwise. You know just as well as I do that alcohol is used by so many people as a way of nulling the pain they feel. You were dealing with what you knew.” As far as Zac was concerned, that didn’t made things okay, not now. All those times they argued, what if they would only fuelling Evie’s depression? He knew he had a right to be frustrated, but he wished he could do things differently now if he could. “God, she’s stuck in a hospital now, and… that’s the last place she deserved to be right now, and… and I could have stopped this from happening, protected her… I could have been there for her more than I was…” Zac was crying again as his body leaned forward, as if wanting to just collapse of the bench and onto the ground. He hasn’t even seen her yet. “Okay, listen to me,” Nadia said, her hand a steady anchor on Zac’s shoulder as she brought him back up again. “Okay, is the situation horrible? Absolutely? Did you make wrong decisions? Yes. Did Evie make wrong decisions? Yes again.” Zac interrupted her, because yeah Evie could have handled this better, but that didn’t make her responsible, not when she had so much to deal with. “It’s not her fault, she-” “I never said it was,” Nadia interrupted him, just as firmly. “This is not about blame. This was a difficult year for both of you, for the same reason: you both lost people that were part of your family, and you each reacted in a different way. To expect completely rational behaviour, the entire time, is like expecting a bull to consider not attacking a vegetarian- it’s just not reasonable. You had been too frustrated, but you were not trying to hurt her. She was distant and pushed herself away, leaving you to wonder why, but she wasn’t trying to hurt you either. We got to move past this guilt, realise our mistakes, and strive to do better. Evie spent all this time thinking that… if someone does awful things, even after they’re given a second chance, they don’t deserve another chance to do better. I’ll say this, in some cases she wouldn’t be wrong, but this is not the same case for her, and not for you.” She finished this with a heartfelt smile, which Zac tried to return (albeit a watery one), but he couldn’t stop picturing all of Evie’s emotions that seemed to sink into the words she wrote. Anxiety, grief, suffering, desperation and raw anger. “She wanted to die, Nadia. She… she didn’t think her life was worth living! How am I supposed to fix that? I want to, I swear I do… but… I thought if she got involved in work, something she was so interested in before…. I thought that would solve things… she was trying but she didn’t see the point in it, when she was so good at it, and I was trying to figure out why… but she wouldn’t tell me, and I just got frustrated…It just seems so hard!”, Zac said, his voice wavering. “You always knew it wasn’t going to be easy. You know I won’t sugar-coat stuff like this. Even when we didn’t knew what we know now. It’s a messy progress that is going to take… weeks, months, who knows. For all we know, this guilt Evie feels? It may be trailing around her for the rest of her life. Are you going to give up on her?” “Never,” Zac said, without a slightest bit of hesitation, reluctance or grimness. No matter how frayed things got between them, Zac never wanted to give up on Evie. Those times when he said he wanted to stop being worried- it was because he wanted things to get better for her, for all of them, so that after so much time of loss, pain, anger and fear, he and his family can begin to heal again. “Then we start from there. We take every small bit of it at a time,” Nadia said. “What do you think is the first step?” Zac thought about it deeply, because now he had to be 100% certain about this answer, and ensure that a) it would actually help the situation, and b), that Evie would take it onboard. The entire time, even though they tried to respect Evie’s decisions, their entire strategy was on the offensive. Thinking about trying to decide what was the best decision to do for Evie, and trying to persuade her. But that has done that no good now. So now Zac realise, as painful as the idea sounded, he needed to step away and play outside the box. Trying to go back to what he thought Evie had already knew before she could talk about, but obviously couldn’t. “I… I would have to ask her what she needed, because she needs that control, doesn’t she?” Nadia nodded in encouragement, prompting Zac to continue. “And… and if there’s any more bad days and Evie feels as though she was messing up… it’s okay to have bad days, that no one expects perfection from her, but the fact that she tries is more than enough.” He thought Evie knew this all along, that there was never any pressure on her to do things perfect. If he had known, he would have done more to assure her of that. Nadia smiled at him again and for the first time, it looked hopeful. “Seems like a good place to start than any. And listen to this as well,” she added, keeping a firm hold on Zac’s shoulder. “This isn’t breaking confidentiality by telling you this. Whenever you were mentioned, I can see how much Evie cared about you. She looks up to you, and that was what made the idea of letting you down even more painful to her. Knowing you're safe would be the one thing that would be keeping her through this. She loves you Zac, so hold onto that thought, no matter what.” ----- “I don’t believe this, Zac!” Leah collapsed onto the nearby seat, just feeling horrified at how things have taken such a devastating turn. She was too shocked to even cry. She knew what Evie was going through was more worse than most people would expect. They were trying to ensure she properly deal with the losses she felt, because Evie seemed to jump into anything without confronting it. Leah feared she did it so she wouldn’t have to confront it, as if trying to focus on what she had instead of that pain. But this…Leah understood regrets for dead loved ones, but for Evie, it was worse, because she genuinely believed what happened to her family was her own fault. So much of what she said before… it had all stemmed from that damning belief. They would never have left her be alone if they knew she had those… those thoughts! They were harrowing! “She… she can’t feel like this, she can’t!” “She does,” Zac replied back, his voice reduced to a simple stunned tone, as if he still couldn’t see how this could happen. Except he could. Thinking about it now, there was always that small fear that things could get as bad as this, but Evie never gave any obvious signs of suicidal thoughts. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t have found out on his own though. “We… we have to fix this, we got to make this right.” Leah looked at her husband uncertainly. She knew Zac wanted to make this right. She had seen him so conflicted all this time between wanting to help Evie, and was tired of trying until his niece was willing to listen. However, she needed to make sure Zac didn’t rush into this. This was not the time to be rash about it, and though Zac was more patient and understanding than most, the emotional side of him would be running full time here. Leah knew he couldn’t have known it would lead to this, but she wished just as much as he did that they stopped this before. “We need to think about this. We went into this without knowing what she needed. This time, we have to make sure what she needs.” Zac nodded along. He knew what they have been trying hasn’t been working, no matter how much they tried to change. Now, if they keep what’s at stake in mind, they’d be able to focus more. “And above all, we need her to know that none of this was her fault. Especially not Oscar and Hannah, there was nothing she could do-” “We have to address it, I know,” Zac pointed out, looking back at his wife with a sorrowed look on his face. “But we can’t just tell her that.” “What? Why not?!” Leah asked astonished. “Zac, she can’t keep thinking this, it’s killing her!” “I know,” Zac said with patience he didn’t feel. “But we have tried so many times before. No, it may not have been… been as we thought it was, but we tried getting her to see what Josh did wasn’t her fault and she couldn’t believe us. It’s so… ingrained into her that she can’t rid herself of those thoughts, even with our encouragement. We… we need to tell her, first thing, that we're there for her. That things aren't going to be like before. From here on out... we have to approach this gently with her, try and understand why she feels this way. We need to find a way to make her reach out to us, not the other way around. Just reassuring her that it wasn’t her fault, that… that isn’t enough. Maybe... she’ll want to believe it, but she wouldn’t let herself. We have to properly talk about it with her. As painful as it is, we need to explain that to her, and then get her to understand how it can’t be her fault, the different avenues there are to dealing with it.” Because as Zac realised now, they had tried to bring all of it up at the same time, when they ought to have taken it step by step. Besides, even if they do convince her, there will still be the guilt she feels of not being able to save Oscar. A guilt that is more understandable, but just as difficult to rid yourself of. “That doesn’t solve everything, though,” he continued to say. “I mean… her troubles at work, the other stuff… I still don’t get why-” “You’re jumping ahead of yourself,” Leah stopped him in his tracks. “Remember what Nadia told us, we need to take this one bit at a time.” To be honest, Leah wasn’t sure at first what she thought of Nadia, but right now, thankfully she had the answers they needed, and had trouble of finding. Leah realised this was the problem in the first place. Zac was so eager to help Evie, he tried to tackle all the problems he could see head-on, all at once. “If we jump at her thinking of all these problems at once, she’ll be overwhelmed and you’ll crack, okay?” Leah just stared at her husband, not because she wanted to see if he agreed, but because she could hear the continuous tremor in his voice and the pain swelling in his eyes. “Zac…” she said, reaching out to him on the other seat and touched his hand. He looked down at him, and when he looked up at her again, the pain had increased. “I knew she was hurting… and I was caught between trying to act as things were normal and trying to emphasis the problem, but… she was just getting worse, and… she’s so far gone, Leah, and I didn’t help her enough. I… I just let her think like this…” “You couldn’t have known,” Leah said helplessly through Zac’s blubbering, though she knew in some way, while he wasn’t right, he wasn’t wrong either. “Well I could have Leah!” Zac insisted, actually crying now. “She… she couldn’t see any future for herself and I could have done more to get her to see that there was, I couldn’t-” His voice broke on a sob and whatever little composure he gained since reading Evie’s letter began breaking. It dissolved completely as soon as Leah stood up and pulled Zac into her arms. He buried his face in her neck as he clung to her, tears running freely down his cheeks as he cried. “I’ve got you, I’ve got you,” Leah repeated soothingly, kissing the top of Zac’s head as she hugged him close. She hasn’t seen him this brokenly emotional since he opened up to her about the nightmares he had since he left prison. She knew he needed this, so when Evie woke up, when they let them see her, he’d be able to comfort Evie better without the risk of falling apart himself. -------- The first thing Evie noticed as she opened her eyes was just… just how bright everything was. For a moment, she wondered if she had gone blind, because all she could see was nothing but a light that covered every bit of her weary sight, it’s glow way too white… As if to distract herself from the light, Evie began to realise her body felt extremely light, as if she was floating away, her brain completely empty apart from a buzzing sensation. It felt weird, a completely dazing sensation, as if everything had left her and was now floating above her, too far from her reach if she ever wanted to reach out and grab any of it out… she couldn’t even tell if she wanted to, or what she was reaching for. She wondered if she was actually dead, if this was what it felt like, look like, for who knows how long… because who knows what the afterlife, if there even is one, looks like… was this what Oscar saw? Hannah? Denny? Her father and mother? Casey Braxton? Did… she hated herself for thinking this, but her brain drifted towards if even Charlotte felt like this, the moment Josh pulled that trigger… But, just as she was trying to figure that out, it all came back to her: the barrel of fire, the paralysing fear, the panicked breaths she took, Mason and Matt and Jeanette’s worried faces… where were they, are they okay, what if they died, what if they died and she couldn’t help them…it was a pattern happening again and again, and she didn’t… she didn’t find him, she never got a chance to save him, and… Suddenly, the raspy, quick-paced sounds of her breaths started to echo through her ears, a shrill, tearing sound that took too much energy from her to even try. It had always felt like that, too much energy for her to breath, but what made it more difficult was that hearing herself breath resonated a hard truth for her. Dead people don’t breath. They wouldn’t have to, and even if so, they probably wouldn’t be facing so much difficulty in doing so. She was still in the land of the living. That awful fact didn’t do anything to control her breathing, the fogginess of her brain or the slowly dimming of her bright vision. Her body was going close to shut down again before she could feel something running down her arm in a… soothing manner, a extraordinarily calming manner. Evie didn’t know what to make of it until she heard a voice that was so filled of emotion… “You’re okay, Evie, you’re alright. You’re back with us.” It was as if that voice was a gift in itself, even though Evie still couldn’t bring her brain to remind herself who that voice was, because her breathing was slowing down. They still felt and sounded incredibly strained and unendurably raspy, but at least there were gaps in between them, in and out, in and out. The light was fading away as well, bring a bit more colour into her sight. The dark glow from the corner of her left eye gave her a good idea of what time it was, she could see now she was lying on a hospital bed, (but still with no memory of how she got here) and on her right… on her right… Evie was sure she had gone insane a while ago and now it must have gotten to the point that her vision was playing cruel tricks on her. Because she could see Zac and Leah standing beside her bed, Leah brushing her hand gently over the sleeve of Evie’s arm and Zac staring keenly at her with… Well there had to be no doubt about it. She had to be going insane, because the only thing she could see in Zac’s expression was solely love. That didn’t make sense, that wasn’t right, she was practically the definition of unlovable. “Z…Zac…Leah…?” Her voice was hoarse and so scratchy, as if she was slurring her words… just like she was earlier, she realised as memories from today came rushing back to her. “You’re okay, Evie,” Leah assured her, trying to keep her face dry despite how difficult the sight in front of her was. Mason’s warning did nothing to prepare either her or Zac for the sight of seeing Evie bedridden and pale, with tubes like snakes keeping her connected to rumbling machines. Watching Evie, someone she had come to see as a daughter, more than a niece, struggle to breath and open her eyes felt like something out of a nightmare for Leah. Evie continued looking at their faces in a dull gaze. She wished they weren’t here, they had better things to do than look at her like this. She was sorry for causing them this grief, but saying so didn’t help. Because whether she liked it or not, she’s been causing them grief long before she ended up here. She’d been causing Matt enough- Matt. Suddenly, she attempted to get out of the bed, only to be stopped gently by Zac and Leah. “Matt… Mason… are they okay… I didn’t… I only saw them…” “They’re okay,” Zac promised assuredly, incredibly grateful at seeing some light escape into her eyes at that moment, as well as how steady his voice sounded, as if he hadn’t been crying ten minutes ago. Still, he marvelled at Evie right now. She was stuck in a hospital bed and she wanted to make sure that her friends were alright. He smiled gently at her, despite the fear he felt that he would never smile again. “Mason’s gone home for the night, but Matt’s waiting outside, if you want to speak to him.” Did she want to? Evie didn’t know, didn’t know what else she could say to him. She had no idea of what to say to either of them right now. Part of her felt like asking why they were even here, but even in her fuzzy mind, that sounded incredibly rude. Being stuck on a hospital bed wouldn’t make even less rude. But after how she reacted, the completely unnormal behaviour, they probably wanted to send her away, send her away to some institution where they wouldn’t have to worry about her… “I…I...”. Her mouth felt like sandpaper that kept ravelling and unravelling as she tried to speak. “It’s okay, you don’t have to say anything, not now,” Zac told her, gently carding his hand through her dirty black hair. He knew there was a lot they had to talk about, but now was not the time. “I… we’re… just so… so grateful to see you.” Even if it was in a hospital, because that still meant at least she was alive. Zac was determined to keep it so for Evie. “I… I went to the caravan and got some clothes for you.” It seemed like an incredibly small thing to even talk about, here, but Evie could note the underlying message that was under Zac’s words, no matter how light he tried to make them sound. His voice had an incredible sad note in it, and Evie, who hated that he sounded that way because of her, could guess why. He must have seen the note, read it. He must have read it and saw how horrible she truly was, how awful she was, how she was responsible for… for… he must know, he must have known before, but why would he had put up with her… Oscar and Hannah meant so much to him, he would never forgive her… he won’t… “You saw the letter then.” The slimmer of hope in Zac’s expression faded away, as he looked down at his shoes. When he looked up again, his face didn’t display any of the anger or hate it should have. “Yeah, I saw it.” And with that, he stepped forward and Evie was too tired to even flinch at whatever he was going to do… but instead he edged closer and gripped her hand in his own, in a gentle and comforting manner. “What do you need me to do?” She didn’t wake up, she was stuck in some strange limbo, or some feverish dream. She couldn’t have heard what she said, she surely couldn’t have. Zac said he saw the letter, and yet here he was asking what she needed. As if she needed anything, she needed to die, she needed to rot, she needed to be punished… “What?”. “Anything you need. You want some water? Something to eat? Need us to… to give you some space or… anything you would need us to do for you.” They were such simple words, words that should have been said a long time ago. Yet Zac kept the dismay from entering his expression at seeing how completely shocked as she stared up at him, unable to speak. As if what he suggested was entirely alien to her. She averted her gaze, focusing out the window, before looking down at her feet. Zac didn’t ask again, waiting for her answer, but now, he could understand why she had so much trouble and even seemed extremely dubious about answering this, as if things would suddenly turn worse if she did. So much has happened, and so much she holds herself responsible for, for her not to trust assurances. But the least Zac could do was try something different, something new. Evie was completely thrown by the question that her head had gone completely blank. Even the usual guilt and self-hate was thrown back to give way to a state of confusion, no matter how brief. Though almost unaware she was even talking, or why she even opened her mouth, Evie heard her own gravelly-sounding voice attempting to string the words together coherently. “I just- could you- I mean, it’s not important, really it’s not-” “What is it that you need, Evie?” Evie finally looked up at Zac and something flooded her chest- it felt strange, and she couldn’t put her mind on it right now, but she felt somewhat lighter, like she was levitating in the air. “Could I… please… could I get a glass of water?” It was out there, and as soon as the entire sentence escaped her lips, Evie felt so incredibly stupid. She felt her fingernails for the first time gripping the rails of the bed. Why did she even think that was an okay thing to ask? Compared to everything she did, after letting Oscar and Hannah… after failing them, what right did she have to ask anything as small as that, there was no way they’d want her back, she didn’t deserve them, and she shouldn’t give them false hope when she knew damn well she could be dead soon enough anyway by her own hand or who knows what else, if she let them in she was selfish, she didn’t deserve them, she hurt them all, that’s all she does and- “Here.” She looked up, and saw Zac in front of her, excitement shining in his eyes, holding out a half-filled glass of water gently on the side. It didn’t feel urgent, it didn’t feel insistence, he only put it up close to her, as if she would change her mind. That simple act made her feel…made her feel… Good. Was it that easy? No, it couldn’t be, it… it shouldn’t be. Yet she took a tentative hand and raised the glass to her lips. Her lips felt incredibly dry and cracked, so the refreshing coolness of the water made her sink into a frighteningly state of ease. She leaned her head back into the pillows behind her. Knowing that Zac and Leah were here should, she knew, make her sink easier into that relaxing feeling. But even as she did so, the discomfort was rising inside her again, bringing with it a familiar tension as if preparing her body to start bolting towards the door. Just because she felt it was relaxing didn’t mean it was the right thing to do. “Why… why are you doing this?”, Evie could only ask what seemed to her to be the only reasonable thing she could say at this point. “Why… why are you… why are you even here?” Before, Zac would have acted in well-intentioned indignation, because of course he would want to be here, of course he’d be rushing over here to look after her, but after knowing what he now knew, he knew that wouldn’t be the right reaction, nor would saying “I want to be here” mean enough. “Why do you think we shouldn’t be here?” he asked calmly, though every part of him wanted to explain why immediately. Evie, once again, was completely thrown off at the question, because the answer was so bloody obvious. And once she brought herself to answer, the words were all rushing out, “Because… because you shouldn’t be here, concerned about me. I… I pushed you all away, and… after all the crap you had to deal with, there’s no way… it’s my own fault, I shouldn’t be reacting like… that over something that was my fault in the first place and…” she felt tears bringing up in her eyes and she strained her eyes to stop them from coming out. She didn’t want to cry, she shouldn’t cry, but what she was going to say made her voice crack. “Oscar and Hannah are dead, they shouldn’t be… two really good people dead and it’s… it’s all because of me.” Evie felt herself trembling as her breaths quickly turned to gasps because… she realised this was the first time she said such a thing out loud. She knew it was true, she had to be honest about it, but saying it felt completely unreal, disturbing, wrong... A steady hand was on her shoulder, rubbing her shoulder in a comforting way. Somehow that helped steadied her breaths, just as before, as if just knowing it was there was enough. Her vision had gone blurry with tears that she refused to let drop, but they were present anyway. Oh great, you pull on the waterworks like that would bring attention from what you did. How terrible you are, how weak you are, how pathetic you are, how much you don’t deserve to be comforted like this. They hate you now, and they’ll tell you that now, and they’ll tell everyone. Evie could barely acknowledge the return of that damn voice in the middle of her distress. She knew she must be crazy for hearing that voice, but it never went away, this was no exception. It was better for them to hate her, better that than them dead. Yet Zac, who had walked over to the other side of her bed, didn’t look like he was going to tell her that he hated her. He looked pained while she was rambling, as if he wanted to interrupt but held himself back. He was still looking at her with something that looked like love but it was impossible. How could he possibly love her, he couldn’t put behind what happened to Oscar and Hannah, that just something he wouldn’t or shouldn’t do… “Okay, now I’ll answer you. I’m here because you are one of the most important people in my life, Evie. Because… because the day I brought you and Oscar back to the Bay was one of the best days of my life. Because you deserve every bit of love, patience and kindness I can give you, no matter how much you need… because you care so much about the rest of us and I would do anything for you.” “No…no,” Evie shook her head, only to stop after the massive headache that simple action brought upon herself. “Zac… it’s… it’s not safe… it’s not good… not after what I’ve done…” Zac waited for her to finish, even though the urge to stop her from saying all of this never went away. He watched her try to reason with him and he was just struck at how tired she look. He had seen her look tired before, (even as he was wondering how many times that she hid it, and felt she had to), but this was something entirely different. He saw it written all over her face, and he was beginning to feel the pain she did; the numbness, his limbs so weak it almost felt like he wasn’t in his own body. It’s been taking it’s toll on her, to keep living this way. It’s killing her. He knows what happened to Oscar and Hannah weren’t her fault, but he understood the guilt she felt of not doing anything to save them- even though in the circumstances that would be impossible as well. “I would never blame you for any of this. I know… I know you feel like you deserve the guilt you feel, I know you believe it was your fault. I know it might… it might always feel like that. Nothing anyone can say or do can change your perception of what happened. But there’s more going on, and I want to help, no matter what has happened before, no matter how long it will take for me to convince you that it wasn't your fault, because you deserve it, Evie. No letter would change that.” Zac watched Evie stiffen and he immediately worried. Had he overstepped? Had he say too much while she was in such circumstances? How would she respond? Leah stepped in, moving her hand from Evie’s shoulder to card her fingers through Evie’s hair in a mother-like fashion. “We know you’ve been hurting, and I know you don’t want to admit that, but admitting is nothing to be ashamed of. We want no promises from you Evie, because we now understand how difficult it is of you to assume anything, even from us right now. We didn’t understand before, and we don’t understand everything now, but we will be more willing to wait, because that was what you need. We know that now and we’ll love and support you no matter what.” There were just so many thoughts rushing through Evie’s head and she didn’t know how to stop the rush. The first emotions pushing these thoughts along were outrage and anger. How could he say this, not when he must know what she did. She knew Zac was smart, and she still didn’t get how he could have hope for her, not after everything. She’d just be fooling them again when there’s no hope and she’d end up dead or worse, they would end up dead and it still doesn’t change the guilt she feels, why else would she feel it, why would she be messing up so badly, it doesn’t excuse anything, it doesn’t change anything, she needs Zac and Leah to know this, but she just couldn’t form the words for all of it because she is just so goddamn tired, so exhausted of living this way, so tired of fighting- “Stop.” It was just one simple word, almost a whimper of a word. Zac and Leah looked at her, waiting for her to continue with uncertainty. Evie, hating herself every moment, looked up at them and spoke again: “I… I can’t deal with this… not now. I know you’re trying and I know I owe you answers, but… you’re telling me you love me and… and…” she was now straining hard to keep the tears from falling. “It’s all too much… what you’re doing is… so much and I don’t deserve it…please just… just… please leave.” Even she felt shocked at how broken she sounded, and how undecisive she felt. She knew they should leave, that there was nothing for them here, and they would only get hurt. But a part of her- larger than it ever has been before- wanted them to stay. She didn’t know if this was because she wanted to lay herself bare for them, explain everything more, how she deserved the full throb of those scissors cutting through her flesh like paper, the bruises, the scratching, the pain, all of it- or if she just wanted them to stay because she couldn’t bear the idea of them leaving. It all seemed so stupid, so selfish, but she didn’t know what to think, she wished she could stop thinking, just for once… “I think… I think I should talk about it, but I don’t want to hurt you… I… I can’t decide, and I don’t want the extra pressure right now.” It felt a flimsy excuse, a flimsy explanation, but Zac and Leah understood. Leah dropped her hand, but leaned forward anyways to kiss Evie on the forehead. Zac did the same on his side, a range of emotions entering and leaving his face- fear, sadness, a slimmer of hope- and then they walked towards the door. “We’ll be right outside,” he told her, his voice bearing none of the exhaustion from before, and instead incredibly earnest. Something that should have given her hope but… but what good was hope anyway for someone like her? But she couldn't deny the fact that watching him leave made her feel... lighter, as if some pressure had been removed in some way. And he looked honest when he was talking, that he didn't blame her, but... what did it change? It didn't take away her guilt, it didn't change anything. So why was she hoping that it did?
  8. Yeah, basically, I wanted to use the party as a way to show that Evie still has extreme trauma in regards to the explosion in the caravan park, and a trigger like that would be sure to set her off. No one can go through an almost life-ending situation that resulted in the loss of people they love and remain unscathed. The show did show some of that, like when she panicked when the garage caught fire and Matt had to put it out, which I saw as a severe panic attack brought upon by her experiences. However, the show didn't focus nearly enough on her trauma as they should in order to truly explain what would realistically be going on with her, which is where I felt they did her character a severe mis-service. It was difficult to explain why Evie would want to go to the party, because after all the time she decided to hide away to not cause trouble, she wouldn't suddenly change her mind, even with Matt's encouragement. But I was able to explain her decision to go as a way of making amends to Matt for their broken friendship and how she became distant, and then she felt it would then be okay for her to end her own life. Matt did mess up in regards to his thoughts about her and Josh (which came out of a mixture of impulsiveness, resentment and concern and still needs to be sorted out by both him and Evie), but he is still a genuinely good person at heart, and seeing Evie suffering like this will definitely devastate him. I'm glad you liked the bit with Olivia. I admit, Olivia remains far from my favourite character, but out of everyone in the Bay right now, she'd be the person who would understand Evie's depression more, given her own history with self-harm. When Matt and Zac would need help to understand Evie and why she would want to harm herself, Olivia would know what to tell them what to do. I felt it wouldn't really work if I had someone who did care for Evie more, but wouldn't understand her level of self-hatred to figure out what was going on to her in that regard. Besides, isn't it an old saying: 'Help arrives in the most unexpected places?" Thanks again Red.
  9. D.B

    Euros 2020

    Just watching it now, Italy's doing pretty well against Switzerland so far... Things were getting heated up between Turkey and Wales during the second half.
  10. ‘Everyone has a story. If you keep it to yourself, it dies and comes back to haunt you.’ (Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale, published by Atria Books, United Kingdom, 2006). 'They say the past is etched in stone, but it isn't... it's smoke, trapped in a closed room swirling, changing, buffeted by the passing of years and wishful thinking. Even though our perception of it changes, one thing remains constant: the past can never be completely erased, it lingers like the scent of burning wood.' (Toby Leonard More, Daredevil, 1x04, Netflix Series, 2015). WARNINGS: The following chapter contains graphic details of a panic attack, suicidal thoughts and self-hatred. This is going to be much darker than what I’ve written previously (if that’s even possible), so thread carefully please. Also, apologies for how long this chapter is. Even I'm appalled at how long it is. Chapter 16 Maybe you don’t know me at all, Evie. Out of all the things Matt could have said, out of all the things Evie had thought up in her head that she thought he would say, that wasn’t it. It wasn’t even close to anything she had expected him to say. Evie did know Matt, she had known him for three years. Perhaps that’s why she ought to have expected his frustration with not being involved, with not knowing what was going on, but it was also why his patience that night was so… confusing to her. She should have dealt He kept on insisting that he didn’t blame her for what Josh did, and… if she could laugh she would have at the irony of the situation. That those words which would have made anyone else feel better only made her feel worse. Not that it would make her feel better if he had just been angry at her. As much as she told herself otherwise, that would never make her feel good. The pain she felt every time she hurt herself… cutting herself, it never made her feel right or good. She had mixed up with what she deserved and what felt good. Even if it didn’t matter, even if it shouldn’t matter. She felt wrong, she felt disgusted, she felt like a monster. Besides, she just couldn’t understand why Matt couldn’t see it. Even though she may not have known, and even though she made sure that Matt knew she hated what Josh did, she made Matt realise that she could never excuse her former fiance, she still did nothing to stop Josh. She let him cover up his murder, a murder he got away with because he had been blind, blind because of what she let happen, and she let them all down. Worse… it led to Hannah and Oscar being killed. The idea of still being alive while they were gone was still too terrible for words. Can’t he see that pattern, why she can’t be trusted… That night… “You don’t want me to be there, I’ll… I’ll be no good,” Evie insisted, her brain feeling like it’s melting under the pressure, but she still felt ashamed about saying no to her friend. She didn’t feel like going to a party would be a good idea, only as some pathetic attempt to try and grab some sense of normality, and using Matt’s kindness to get it. “Of course I want you to be there, you’re…” she could see the emotions in Matt’s eyes fighting for dominance: confusion, frustration, and for some reason, sympathy and hope. “Evie, you’re one of the hardest-working people I know, you’re smart, kind… despite all that stubbornness…I don’t know how you could be still be walking around if you weren’t as strong as you are… maybe, this party can help you relax, make you actually happy.” “I don’t want that,” Evie answered through gritted teeth, because whatever was going on with her, it wasn’t strength. It didn’t feel like strength was supposed to feel. “…and you shouldn’t either. You shouldn’t be trying to help me, it’s… it’s not good Matt, I can’t let my own selfishness get in the way of… of what’s important.” “But it’s not being selfish, it’s just you trying to enjoy yourself,” Matt said. “Why would that be so terrible?” “Because…because…”Evie was rubbing her fingers against her temple, feeling the pounding in her head like drums getting louder and louder. “I’m telling you the truth, telling you I want you to be there, that you deserved happiness, even if you don’t see it, why can’t you believe it?” “Because it’s too easy!” Evie blurted out, her voice suddenly frantic, waving her hands around in the air as if that would suddenly make sense. Her eyes were straining at how much tears were trying to escape and also because her attempts to keep them in. Matt looked taken aback, but Evie, despite aware of how much drama her raised voice would probably be giving her neighbours, was apparently on a roll. She could feel the anger and sadness plaguing her body sneaking it into her voice, but it was there because Evie didn’t want to talk about it, that was the thing. She didn’t want to talk about these old wounds, about why doing anything normal again felt so wrong, and why Matt kept pushing on something that couldn’t be. “It’s too easy for me to accept anything you’re saying… it’d be the easiest thing in the world to believe I actually deserve a chance to be happy! It would do no good, because it hasn’t done anything good in the past. I should know better than to just waste my time when it’d just be stupid and selfish of me to do so!” Matt folded his arms and his gaze hardened the same way Evie suspected her own did, the concern and alarm in his face giving way to anger. “So what, all those times when it was just the two of us, just hanging out… all of it just a waste of time?” Evie’s eyes widened, the full horror of her words falling back through the air and slamming into her like a fist. Her frustration should never be aimed at Matt. Why did she let it get out of control with the people she loved? “No, that’s not what I meant...” “Then what did you mean, Evie?” Matt asked sceptically. “Because I remember those times, and we were both having a good time, because after everything this year, we deserved it, but what I also remember- all those times, you were trying to hide all these problems at the same time. I don’t see how that would work out.” “Believe me, I don’t know how that would work either,” Evie replied, trying not to think about how hard it was for her to keep more of her words escaping from her mouth, before they do more harm. She felt herself anticipating or wishing for Matt to say ‘I give up’, for him to just leave her and forget about her. Her inner voice was doing a good job convincing her of that. “I don’t know how it would be any different this time. You don’t any part of that, I promise you.” “You can’t just decide that Evie, because maybe I won’t give up as quickly as you do,” Matt said gruffly before trying to soften his tone, realising how harsh that was. “I don’t know how you become convinced that you don’t deserve it, but you do. I won’t stand by and let your pain affect more of your life than it already has and you shouldn’t either. You’re better than that.” She hated that part of herself who acknowledged how difficult, how heart-tearing painful it would be for her to actually talk about what was wrong with her, but she knew it was there, and she knew it was no excuse for how everything that came out was never the full story as a result. Deep down, she doubted if she ever could truly talk about it, not without it making things worse, and that’s why she didn’t want Matt to waste his time. But that only made things worse, because it did nothing to make Matt realise that him insisting on helping her would do nothing, all because she couldn’t speak openly. Somehow, the fear of how horrible she was, everything she did to herself being exposed was too much, even if they should know, but that fear won. She knew no one would want to see how she hurt herself, her own misery, her pain, it would all hurt them too much and she will not hurt them again. No one knew how she cut herself, no one knew how much her body trembled when faced with pressure or how everything sounded so loud, no one knew how her thoughts have swam to terrifying places and remained there, urging her to do something to silence it. It felt strange, Evie didn’t know what she had to be afraid of, not really. Too much had happened, so much that the idea of being afraid for herself seemed so alien to her. Yet, that fear was there, it was present, and she hated it. The week had passed and Saturday had arrived. Evie still hadn’t chosen what she was going to do. She had gone through the motions of the week, but her physical difficulties didn’t go away. She couldn’t stand for a long time, and while no one had called mention to it, she reckoned it was only a matter of time. She heard Zac talk to someone, probably Leah, on the phone in the staffroom as she passed it, and heard him say this: She’s struggling, it’s clear. Even if she insists otherwise, I know she wants to validate herself, and that would be okay, she’s more capable than she thinks, but... I don’t know how to approach her now, I don’t know what to do… everything that’s happened to her… it’s controlling her emotions. I want to respect her decisions and I won't pressure her, but…if it’s killing her, what do I do? She hated that she put that extra pressure on him even now, hated it. She looked into the mirror, at her shrunken cheeks, at her wasted eyes and her tangled up hair. She looked such a mess that she couldn’t even care for it anymore. Matt deserved better than that, than her, someone who wasn’t so broken and complicated than her, especially when things shouldn’t be that complicated. She had tried to change, but that felt nothing more than a lie, when the best thing would be for her to just go away. Even Zac’s praise didn’t feel earned. Because can people really change? Evie didn’t know the answer to that, and knew it was probably different for different people, but she did believe that if a person can spend so much of their life acting one way, it becomes near impossible for them to suddenly break their habits. Wasn’t that the case with Hunter, spending so much of his youth in jealousy and resentment, having someone like Charlotte as his mother and never knowing who his father was? Andy was the same. Evie knew too well how much Josh had despaired of his brother’s reckless and criminal actions, all the times he had put Josh at risk by dragging him into his business but for a while, they all believed Andy had reformed. It took Casey’s death that actually make Josh’s older brother to wake up and realise what his choices were ending up as. It actually looked like it was settling in… until that day he decided to duke it out with Tank. So maybe Andy found it easier to slip back into his fundamental nature. And that was what Evie felt she was doing this entire time, trying to control herself, control all the horrible stuff in her that made her lose her family so she could stop it, and she felt she failed at that too. She could have tried to remember her intentions before, trying to get on with things and not dragging anyone down in misery, just trying to do right by them, but she doesn't trust that, she can't. And if she couldn’t truly change, or at least control herself, she didn’t know how she could carry on like she had before. Her self-hatred convinces her she just hide who she was the whole time, like those villains in Batman that used to freak her out so much as a kid. Every time she had hide it all away she felt horrible, and felt even worse by every argument she had with them, but it was more than just the guilt. She couldn’t stay, not knowing when they could get hurt again, because of her. And when someone does horrible things, doesn’t it make sense to lose hope on them? That’s the thing, isn’t it, about life? You start by being idealistic, strong in the belief in things: family, friendship, love, ‘the system’, yourself. Then as time goes by, no matter how long it takes, whatever was holding it all together begins being eroded away by how horrible the world can really be, how horrible you yourself can really be, until you’re left so alone, exhausted and doing things you never thought you would. Or doing things you always feared you would. But Evie tried not to focus on that, because it all stunk to high-heaven of self-pity, and that was never something she could stand. What she did focus on, was how too many times, she saw bad people do whatever they wanted, no matter who they hurt, or how many families and dreams get ripped apart in the process- Andy, Tank, Hunter, Dylan Carter, Murray Granger, and, whether he intended to or not, Josh. Evie had seen it all over the world, too many times on the news, people getting away with anything because of wealth, power, their last name, or sometimes just simple luck or skill. All of it made her feel so angry, at how unfair it was. She refused it to be the same for her, she needed to pay for what she did. So why would she ever be considering going to the party? Even if Matt truly wanted her to go along, he couldn't, he shouldn't- how would that solve anything? How can that suddenly make things certain that nothing bad would happen? Just by being there, she could put him and everyone else in danger, because danger seemed to follow her around like a stray dog looking for some poor sucker to take pity on it and take it home. Besides, deep down… she knew that whatever was going on with her, she doubted she could handle being surrounded by who knows how many people, with loud music and noise. She felt her own stomach dropping at the idea of that. She had enough trouble when it came to being in public places, even when it wasn’t so loud…she knew her body, even in its weakened state, seemed to be on the alert for something, whatever it was. It made her feel claustrophobic. But that wasn’t Matt’s fault. It wasn’t as though he knew it would trouble her so much, but him trying to make things right… it made her want to rip her own hair out in despair, and that sounded so strange because for some reason, despite what she did to him, he still wanted to help, he still wanted to try and that's what makes him a good guy, but even that won't be enough. She could never make up for what she did, and he’d be safer without her. She wanted him to be angry with her, it wouldn’t make her feel good, but what did that matter, it would have been right at least. Too many things have gone wrong this year. And part of her felt shame for wanting that, because she knew he was a good person, that Zac and Leah were good people, and the idea of them angry at her sends daggers in her heart, and shame as well, for assuming they would. But wouldn’t they, shouldn’t they, given how horrible she was. Still… as maddening as she couldn’t make up her mind about this, but she also felt awful at the idea of saying no to him. But what if… what if she just came along, as least for a little while, not long, just to talk to Matt, just to make him understand and ensure he was having a good time, and then leave before anything bad could happen… Maybe this was a sign. Maybe… this was what she needed to do. Just go there, and leave quickly, making sure Matt was safe, and then… she could finally let go. Do what that dark voice in her head was insisting she do for ages. Have a good night with Matt, finally do right by him, and then… You can’t take that chance. Every moment counts, and any time you waste it around him could end up only worse for him. You know that, deep down, yet you still want to go… It’s better to cut him loose before you get him hurt. If he gets hurt, that’ll be on you. Did she, though? Evie couldn’t think of anything worse than a party right now, but that doesn’t mean she just dropped off the face of the world without Matt knowing why. He deserved to know, there was nothing he could do, at leas this way she would stop being a burden to him… Well, too late for thinking about that now, isn’t it? You had all this time to tell him the truth, to make him understand. You wasted it. Why the hell do you think this night was going to make any difference? Because, deep down, Evie knew, in a grim kind of clarity, that night would be it. The night she ends this pitiful excuse she called a life. She could make herself break out of that petrified state she always finds herself in and end it. And once that thought finally settled in her brain, she felt… an eerie sense of acceptance. Out of all the feelings she could feel… shock, fear, upset, even satisfaction, none of them were present. Just a grim acceptance. Acceptance of the end of something that should have ended a long time ago. Nothing special, just something that… existed. If she had just died in that explosion, instead of Oscar and Hannah… no, before that, if Tank had almost killed her instead of Josh, or in that shipping crane so long ago… before all the suffering, all the lives ruined. Maybe if she died then, none of this would have happened. She could finally stop hurting everyone. And though she hated herself for the thought that entered her head, she knew there was a brief glimpse of relief that the pain would end, she’d be free of all that pain. She looked around in the caravan listlessly, and wondered if this would be the last she saw of it. It all depended if she’d actually go ahead with it. She should, she should have a long time ago but… but she knew that before and yet she still wasn’t dead. She… it’s hard to understand, and she’s just grateful she doesn’t have to explain it to anyone, but before today, she hasn’t planned to kill herself. It wasn’t like in the movies, it’s not as though she wakes up in the morning and decide that’s what she was going to do. That urge to commit suicide- because let’s not mince words here, that what it was- just overcomes every other sense randomly, and she’s left with that desire to do so until she gets stuck in a limbo of two sides, screaming simultaneously ‘do it,’ and ‘don’t do it’. Eventually, that urges passes… except it doesn’t, it lingers like a virus in her head, prepared to strike in full force at any moment. Maybe this time, if she felt content enough with tonight, maybe that would be the push she needed. She wasn’t afraid, she couldn’t be afraid, because she knew too well that there are worst things that could happen to a person than dying. Her thoughts went to Zac and Leah. She wanted to talk to them, she didn’t want to leave them… in the lurk she guessed. The whole thing felt as though she was sneaking out the back door, and she owed them an explanation as well, and she could tell them one more time, just how so, so sorry she was-, but she didn’t know if she could, not without breaking down and giving into that weakness and if they knew what she was about to do... they'd try and help her. She needed to be strong if she had to do this. She needed to explain, though, she needed them to know it was never their fault. Even if this was what she deserved, she hated the idea of Zac or anyone else feeling guilty about it. Maybe they made mistakes, but so did everyone- theirs wasn’t near as bad as hers. Zac gave her so much, she needed to tell him there was nothing he could do. Looking around, she looked for a pencil and a sheet of paper. That’s what people do, don’t they? Leave a note? It felt weak, too little, and the words she was preparing in her head- she was already thinking they were too little to give to them, but she could give what she could. At least she won’t have to deal with the knowledge that what she could give wasn’t even close to being enough. Even as she was writing, half-way down something that, no matter how long it was, didn’t even come close to explaining everything, there was a knock on the door. She froze, unsure of what to do, not wanting to be distracted. “Evie?” Evie could hear Billie’s tentative voice behind the door. She felt herself raising half-way out of her chair, but sat down again shame-faced. She didn’t know how she could go talk right now, and she didn’t know what she could do for Billie, but Evie knew that didn’t stop the shame of not answering the door and pretending she wasn’t there. “Listen, if you’re there… I’m just taking the possibility that you are… I’ve utilised the ‘pretending I’m not behind the door’ thing a lot to get people to go away… don’t worry if you are, if you don’t want to talk, I understand… I get wanting to be alone. I get that. Trust me, I’ve… I’ve lived with that. Part of me was… is nervous about talking about this, because what you said to me before… I could recognise it, and I didn’t want to think about it… I escaped that and things got better, but I know sometimes it… it’s hard not to think things are going to fall apart, but…” Evie had to stop herself from leaning into Billie’s voice which has gone a more earnest and gentle tone, half of her nervous about what she would hear, the other half disgusted at how needy she felt while listening. “There was this story I heard, a long time ago. A guy’s walking down the street and falls into a hole, he can’t get out. A doctor walks past and the guy shouts ‘Hey you, can you get me out?’. The doctor throws down a prescription and some pills, and moves on. A priest walks past and the guy shouts for help again. The priest kneels down, prays, and then moves on. Then a friend walks by and the guy shouts, ‘Hey, it’s me. Can you help me?’. The friend jumps into the hole. The guy says, ‘What the hell are you doing, now we’re both stuck,’… but the friend says, ‘Don’t worry, I’ve fallen down in it, I know how to get out.’ Listen, I’m not saying I know the full extent of what’s going on, and I don’t have to tell you there are people who still love you, because… you know that, but I just want to let you know that, being alone, that doesn’t have to be you. Just wanted to tell you. Just wanted to know… we’ll wait.” Evie heard her walk away, and buried her face in her hands, feeling more exhausted. That Billie didn’t have to say any of it, that she chose to, was making her swell with emotions and gratitude, but also shame, because those words belonged to someone who actually had a chance to be helped, who deserved to be help, and that wasn’t her. How can she tell someone who opened up, who was being so nice, that she didn’t want them to jump into the hole with them, that they shouldn’t? Why did she have to be so weak not to tell them that? ----- Matt closed the garage door. He was looking forward to tonight, at least. He knew some of the people there, even though he wasn’t at uni. He had never felt any bit ashamed at that, because in terms of job, he was doing just fine, and what was more important, his friends never let him feel ashamed because of it, never. Not Maddy, not Mason… not Evie. Despite raised concerns as a result of the police burrowing around, it was still going strong, though he just hoped Ash hadn’t gotten them all into another stupid scheme again. Still, he knew another reason why he would be looking forward to tonight. He wasn’t sure before he talked to Evie if she would want to go, but after talking to her… he doubted it even more. Seeing her so downtrodden and alone had already made him feel more than sorry for her, but hearing her, her words almost a damning revelation to him… the problem wasn’t that she didn’t want his help, it was that she thought she didn’t deserve it. And that made something in Matt break. It made him push aside all his own worries and tried to focus on making her see that she did deserve it, that no matter what she thought, he knows she deserved it. He couldn’t even be mad at her for trying to push him away. It took a while, and the majority of the week for him to get his head around it, but he was beginning to understand that with everyone asking her what was going on… unintentionally, it would have added to the pressure she felt, while at the same time, she didn’t need to feel as though she had to hide anything from them. Even if they disagreed on Josh… though Matt realised how wrong he was there too. Evie didn’t try to excuse anything Josh did, she was as angry at him as she was before, but after hearing her blame herself, and expecting everyone else to blame her too… Matt would have happily taken her excusing Josh over that any day. He would have to get her out of believing that, whatever it took. The whole situation regarding her feelings for Josh didn’t feel resolved though, he couldn't rid himself of the suggestion that she mistakenly thought she owed Josh something, but he couldn’t think about that now. Justin had noticed his bouncing knee while he was working on one of the cars and commented on it, but he ignored him. Knowing what he knew right now, Matt found it difficult to focus on anything else, knowing his best friend was stuck in such a dark place. It wasn’t the stubbornness was new, Matt knew Evie was stubborn, she was one of the smartest people he knew, of course she would be… but he had never seen her so nervous, so unsure about her relationships. Their friendship had mainly been a series of witty teasing and clever retorts, nothing too serious and the knowledge that neither took it seriously. Except Evie had lost her energy for it overtime and she was taking it seriously, even when he didn’t mean too. He wanted to fix that. She mattered so much to him, and she was so wrapped in her own pain that she couldn’t see why she would. All that time, she had been fading away, her smiles disappearing and her light fading, leaving both her and Matt lost in the dark. She must have felt all those feelings, and who knows how difficult it must have been for her to continue keep walking, keep smiling, keep… caring. Despite her stubbornness, despite her chilly and closed off nature at times, she still remained so kind it was a mystery to him how much strength she had to keep the bitterness anyone would have in her situation at bay. She was the one who he could go to for help without making him feel like an idiot or someone overreacting. After Maddy left, his friendship with Evie was one of the few things left in the Bay that made him feel… fulfilled. Even if she was handling some things wrong, Matt couldn't even feel resentment for leaving him in the dark. Now, he was looking over the appliances left in the office, Justin was weirdly enough insistent over keeping the office clean. Personally Matt and Ash weren’t as concerned as they were with that, but Matt was doing it anyway, just to keep his partner happy. He was doing a good job of it. He was putting some of the tools away when he heard Ash knock at the door and he looked up to see the blonde man pointed towards the entrance at the garage. To Matt’s surprise, it was Olivia waiting outside, not looking exactly eager to enter the place. “Looks like you got company. Go on, I’ll clean it from here.” Matt had to resist rolling his eyes at Ash’s unusual insistence of cleaning up, because he knew it was his friend’s attempt to make up to him and Justin regarding the mess he got the garage in before. Instead, he nodded his thanks at Ash before walking towards Olivia. He wasn’t sure what she would want from him. It wasn’t as though they were close, especially with her own reaction when Hunter was exposed. “Anything I can help you with?” Matt asked, crossing his arms at the door. Olivia hesitated, shifting from foot to foot before asking “You spoke to Evie lately?” “Um… yeah, spoke to her earlier this week.” Matt answered. He had tried to text her, but she wasn’t exactly in a mode for conversation. “Why?” Olivia began twisting at a loose curl behind her ear before answering. She could see it again in her head, her walking through the hall in school, turning around a corner… and seeing Phoebe reach out to pull up Evie’s sleeve and Evie jumping away as if Phoebe’s hand was a rattlesnake. The image was burned into her memory, because that movement was one that Olivia recognised all too well. She waited at the corner, breathing heavily until both of them had moved on, and walked to the bathroom to steady herself again, the way her support group had thought each other to. “Did she seem alright, to you, I mean?” Well, it had been clear to Matt that Evie didn’t seem alright, she had been far worse than Matt had expected, far worse than he had feared. He was beginning to think more about what Mason said, about Evie not considering what happened to her to be important, or even existed, but he also felt there was more to the story. Evie had been trying to be brave about it all and pretending that she was coping with everything. Mixing that with her lack of self-confidence… that would only have made things worse for her. Still, he didn’t know if he should say that. He felt as though he was crossing some kind of friendship boundary by talking about this with someone else, especially someone who wasn’t close to either Matt or Evie. This wasn’t some bit of neighbourhood gossip, this was about the mental state of a person whom he cared for and who has suffered enough. Matt didn’t want Olivia staring any rumours or anything. “Why do you ask?” Why was Olivia asking? The first thing she did in the bathroom was to acknowledge it may not have been what she thought it was. It felt unlikely, though, that she mistaken it, it was way too familiar for her own comfort. Once she did, as much as it shamed her to think about it now, she had actually pondered on what to do. Initially, her sympathy for Evie was rather diminished. She was still rattled about having to see Hunter in jail, surrounded by men for whom all she knew could have been just like… just like… anyways, and having to wake up every morning knowing he wasn’t there, and felt that spark of anger whenever Evie or anyone else spoke badly about him. Maybe what he did was wrong, and maybe, as much as Olivia pretended otherwise, those moments when he was angry made her feel extremely nervous… but they didn’t know him the way she did, didn’t see how caring he could be. Seeing him being abandoned by his family didn’t make Olivia feel any much benevolence towards Zac or Evie in anyway, and she remembered that spite even after what she saw… But then she remembered the pain she herself felt whenever she had cut herself. Remembered the sight of Evie sobbing over the graves of her family. Remembered the shame and guilt of seeing her cuts in the mirror, and talking about them, to Chris, to the support group, to Irene. And somehow, for the first time in forever, that drove any thought of Hunter from her mind, and she suddenly felt… strangely clearer. Able to see things with more clarity, able to know what Irene would want her to do. With that in mind, she decided that if it was true, if she was correct about what she saw…then she couldn’t stand by and let someone else go through what she did… even if it was someone she didn’t like. “Look,” Olivia ventured. “I know… I may not be friends with Evie right now, but she’s gonna need your help, and you got to be patient with her to talk about it, okay, Matt? That’s what she needs.” Matt felt his own eyebrows raised in alarm and confusion. He certainly did not expect that from Olivia, and the way her eyes glazed over and became distant, as if she was transported into a dark place that Matt couldn’t imagine where she was sent to. Sometimes he had the feeling Evie had been on the verge of going distant, before she kept pulling herself out of it. “What do you know?” he asked cautiously, not sure if he actually wanted to know. If it could help Evie, he would want to know, but he could guess it wouldn’t anything be easy to hear. Olivia stubbornly shook her head. “I don’t know for sure, I… I can’t know for sure. And even then… it’s not my story to tell, you understand? That’s Evie’s choice to tell, and I… I can’t take that from her.” Matt felt more confused and irritated than ever. This was by far the most cryptic conversation he has ever had, which by Summer Bay standards, is saying a lot. “What exactly do you-” “I got to go, just… remember that, and promise me you’ll let her open up to you.” “Okay, I’ll… I’ll just wait.” Matt didn’t know what that would do though. He was there the whole time for Evie to open up, if she hadn’t done it before, why would she suddenly do so now- But now a thought occurred to him that if she felt she didn’t deserve help, why would she feel like opening up? She wouldn’t have been convinced to talk, so what other choice did she felt she have? Matt could distantly felt himself nodding reluctantly along with that train of thought before he realised that Olivia was already walking away. -------- She looked down at her letter, feeling so strange, as if it was something from a dream. She read it over and over again, making sure she had written down the right words, the words that would at least try and make sense out of everything. She didn’t think that was possible, with the entire magnitude of her issues seemed so hard to write down on paper. The words contained a promise: a promise never to see any of them again, never to hurt them again. She was going to leave it here along with the money she owed Alf, go to the party in a few minutes, and then, as soon as she saw Matt was okay, leave when the time was right, leave and then she can stop. She can finally end it all. She just hated leaving like this, but she didn’t see any other way. Zac…she hated herself for not telling him the truth, hated being such a coward. She knew the truth would only hurt, and she wanted to spare him of that, but she knows the way she handled it was not the way to do it, not after she hide stuff or lied to him or snapped at him, but nothing else would have worked. Despite everything, he still wanted her to open up and she didn’t. She didn’t want to inflict more problems on him… but she feared it was more than that, that the idea that she was responsible for what happened to Oscar and Hannah seemed to terrible to talk about, because if it was true, if he could make the connections the same way she did… he would hate her. As he should. If he didn't know already and he was just doing this as some obligation, that is. She didn’t know if she could handle either one of those options, but after seeing him so exhausted dealing with her time after time, she could end that as well, stop herself from tormenting him any further. He still deserved to know the truth, even if she couldn't tell him, but at least with this letter... she would still pay the price regardless and he'll know why. She feared what she would do tonight would upset him, it was what stopped her before, but she knew he’ll be alright. He’ll have Leah and VJ, his own family, and they’ll look after him, the way she couldn’t. She caused him enough grief and stress, and he wouldn’t even need to mourn. The least she could do was leave him this to make sure he didn’t blame himself, he should hate her, they should all hate her, they do hate her… Suddenly her phone vibrated on the table, catching her attention. Looking at it more closely, she picked it up and saw, with equal amounts of apprehension and dismay, it was a call from Maddy. She may not have been speaking to anyone right now, but during those small excursions to the diner, she heard that Maddy had opened up to Roo again, that she was making some great progress with her prosthetic arm. Roo was so proud and Evie felt a small spark of happiness that Maddy was doing so well, and more importantly, she wasn’t alone in all this. However, that didn’t answer the question to why she would want to talk to Evie. She felt shame rising in her that it came from one of her former closest friends and she didn’t immediately answer, but she also knew why she didn’t. With everything getting worse all the time, Evie didn’t knew what support she could give Maddy, proper support that is, not the one that basically amounts to saying platitudes that wouldn’t do Maddy any good. Evie didn’t see the point of trying when she knew it would ultimately fail, and she hated the idea of giving Maddy anything other than proper help, but she also hated the idea of not being there for her friend. And there was that history… what Evie did to Maddy, how she went behind her back. Maddy couldn’t have forgotten about that, how Evie ruined her relationship with Josh, and look where that ended. She was left with no clue as to why Maddy willingly talked to her before, how she could be so… nice, especially given her own struggles, but Evie could spare her that obligation now at least. Which was why, feeling completely despicable, she left the phone ring. ------- “Evie!” Evie turned around and gave a brief smile when she saw Jeannie Woods, a friend from college, walk up the road to where Evie had parked her car. Jeannie was a medical student from the City, she had been studying for medicine, and became good friends with Evie and Maddy along with her friend-group. She had been one of the few from college who remained in contact with Evie and Maddy when both of them were forced to take some time off from college after what happened in the caravan park… only for Evie to lose touch after she kept herself away. “Hey, how have you’ve been? Haven’t seen you in ages!”, Jeannie exclaimed as she approached with her arms raised, but doing one quick look over Evie, she quickly dropped her arms. Jeannie, for all her energetic energy, had always been good with reading other people’s body language, combined with the gift of never letting anything she saw break her stride. If Phoebe could learn her patience, Evie had the feeling her and Jeannie would have got on like a house on fire. “Hi, Jeannie,” Evie replied, her own voice much less enthusiastic than her chirpy friend. She knew Jeannie would never falter at Evie’s downtrodden attitude nor make a big deal out of it, unlike anyone else who had seen it- course, that didn’t change how bad she felt. Even if she shouldn’t pretend, she could at least force a smile at seeing her friend. “I know, it’s just… things have been busy.” But not for long, as long as the resolve she felt earlier remains. Jeannie’s excited smile slowly smudged into a more gentle one before walking alongside Evie, her hands swinging side by side. Neither of them talked much as they walked up to where the party was being held, other than just the usual small talk. Jeannie filled her in on small details for her plans for the next year, though when it came to her own family, she remained ominously silent. Evie hadn’t had been in touch with much of her friends from college for so long (since she began working at the school), and while she knows it’s probably bad form to lose touch with friends in your first year, too much had happened and she guiltily didn’t know what she could say. Evie didn’t know what she could say right now, because everything she could think of saying sounded less than mundane. It sounded surreal, because Evie felt this was the last time she would be doing so. “Mason’s already in there, he arrived a couple of minutes earlier with some guy with curly hair…” “That’s Matt,” Evie told Jeannie. “He’s our friend from the Bay.” Jeannie nodded inquisitively, avoiding the characteristic urge of hers to look more into the quick light that shone in Evie’s eyes when she talked about Matt. She knew what the group from the Bay had been through this year, and decided against commenting further on their relationships. “Yeah, well that makes more sense there. He’s been looking around anxiously in there for a while now. Obviously, he must be looking for you.” Yeah, probably hoping you don’t show up. Evie had to suppress a flinch at that, which wasn’t as necessary as she thought with Jeannie in front of her entering the gates to the backyard of the house, Evie wished that wasn’t true, but she couldn’t even try to convince herself of otherwise. She felt way too exhausted to think about it even further. She felt physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted, and had for a long time now. At least that would end as well hopefully. And, as she made her way through the backyard, Matt indeed looked up at the sight of her, and she could already see the mixture of hesitation and delight on his face. Which didn’t exactly answer whether or not Matt had actually wanted to see her or whether or not he was just doing it for her sake. But then she remembered Matt telling her that he never says anything just for the sake of anything, he doesn’t pretend. Logically, she knew he didn’t, he wasn’t that type of person... but for some reason she couldn’t convince herself of that. “You made it,” Matt greeted her jovially enough, and Evie just nodded back. “Yeah, I did.”, she admitted, just praying at least this time, she made the right call. ---- Evie didn’t have an answer to that prayer yet, but she was having a sneaky feeling as the evening began to slowly pass into the night, the answer would be negative. The party had been going on for at least an hour now, and she was feeling a mixture of nausea. There were at least 20 people at the yard right now, the majority of them she either knew or recognised from college, with a few stragglers outside of college like Matt. The way her ears were pounding, you could have sworn there were 100. The music roared loudly into the sky, everyone was cheering, dancing or talking loudly to hear themselves over the mess. Evie was honestly having trouble hearing much over the racing pace of her own heart. She had sat with Jeannie and a couple of the girls for a while, but after not giving much conversation, she moved on. One of the girls whom Evie didn’t know the name of was giving a strange look at her and Jeannie kept wanting to intervene, but Evie had to keep reassuring her to leave it be. She had talked to Matt for a while as well. They chatted a bit about work, with Evie taking pains not to talk about her own difficulties, and even though talking now brought a wave of discomfort to her, she at least tried. But it wasn’t anything before. It wasn’t even like when they talked after… everything happened, the conversations back then were at least something resembling the good times they had before. Matt noticed it as well, Evie could see it in his eyes, yet it didn’t stop him. Looking over at him where he was standing by the barbecue right now, she was still determined to make him smile properly, to make sure he knew he wasn’t doing… anything wrong with all of this. Eventually she ended up helping Mason sort out the alcohol he brought with him. Apparently he raided the fridge from his own home without his older siblings noticing. Most of the drink that was there from the beginning had already run out so Mason obviously had the job of resupplying everyone. Though Evie had agreed to help him sort it all out, she was only dreading the night even more. She didn’t have to even look at the internet for the many examples that would show that young people plus lots of drinks plus loud music equals a lot of stupid stunts being pulled. Things so far have been- not quiet, but relatively sane- though if Evie had put money on it, she’d bet it wouldn’t last. “You planning on drinking tonight?” Mason asked as he was placing another bag from his car onto a table that was laid out. Evie shook her head vigorously. She wouldn’t have wanted to get drunk on a normal day, but today… she needed a clear head. Besides, she didn’t think her malnourished body could handle a lot of alcohol. Also, as embarrassing as it probably was, she may have been a failure, but she’d truly be damned if she was going to spend her last doing a drunken… she didn’t know, a drunken cartwheel or something like that. “I’m not really in the mood for that tonight.” “Suit yourself,” Mason replied, deciding to leave the issue go. Frankly, he wasn’t sure how the night was going so far. He was glad that Evie had come along, and the look of relief on Matt’s face when he saw her was clear to see, but Mason couldn’t help but think about his hopes about a possible relationship. He had tried to approach her but Evie, while not hostile, had already set up a firewall defence that kept everyone at arm’s length. There wasn’t much room for him to move on, but Mason kept looking for gaps to squeeze through. “There is gonna be a lot of headaches tomorrow morning. Nice night for it, though, at least.” Mason laughed at that, but Evie only gave him a small smile and a half-hearted shrug. Her mind was clearly somewhere else, and Mason felt disheartened by it. Can’t she see he was trying to spark off a conversation? “Anyway, I’m glad that Matt convinced you to come around. He means a lot to you, don’t you.” Evie nodded more enthusiastically at that. He did, otherwise she didn’t think she’d be out there. And soon you’ll be out of his life, for good this time. The way you should have ages ago. “He’s a really good friend to have. I just wish I could have been more to him.” Mason’s eyebrows quirked up at that. “As in… you know…”, he offered suggestively, and Evie’s own eyebrows shot up in surprise at that. “No, nothing like that. No, Matt’s just… a friend.” To be honest, Evie had never considered that road in a very long time, mainly because she knew that even if she had been interested, Matt deserved a much better girlfriend, and besides, her own emotional issues and problems were way too much for anyone looking for a stable relationship to go for. Deep down, she knew Matt really wants a stable relationship. Most men would just look for something quick and exciting. Matt, despite all his swagger, had grown more sensitive than that over the years. Mason nodded along, feeling there was more going on between the lines, but pushed on regardless. “I bet it’s good to be out here, though huh? For you, I mean,” he specified. “Just to give… I don’t know, some sense of normality back.” Well, Evie could see where Mason was coming from, but out of all the ways to get back to a state of normality, honestly, she could have done without something like this. Besides, it didn’t matter, if she wasn’t going to be around to enjoy it. “I’m just glad I was invited.” Part of her internally winced at the lie, a well-meaning one but… but maybe it wasn’t fully a lie. Because she knew a part of her had lifted up when Matt smiled at her. Did that mean she wanted to come here all along? Regardless of the circumstances. She was so loss in her own thoughts, she didn’t hear the rising noise of cheers coming on the other side of the yard. Mason smiled gently at her, trying not to focus on the sense of incredulity in her voice. “So, um… you ever thought about getting back in a relationship?” Evie couldn’t help but give a small sigh. She could see the almost-excited look that Mason was trying to hide, and could tell what he was hoping the conversation to lead to. It all seemed pointless to even consider, but Mason was still a friend, so she couldn’t rebuff him. “Mason, listen, I’m not looking for anything like that, and it’s sweet of you to ask, but…” Mason had to hold back a sigh of his own. Was he really that transparent? “No, no, I was just wondering if… you know, if Matt’s just a friend…look I know, that… just because of bad experience in the past, doesn’t mean you have to give up entirely-” And now the conversation was moving to a place no one needed it to go, and Evie needed to stop him in his tracks. If she had looked behind her she would have noticed a crowd gathering and heard someone shouting ‘Dude, look out!”, but she didn’t. She would have wished she had. “Mason, that’s not the point, You-” Whatever she was going to say to Mason would remain a mystery, because then suddenly her voice became dwarfed by the sudden roar from behind her. Her head had turned around and froze half-way by the sudden sight of flames rising out of the barbecue into the air, wild and out of control. And suddenly, it was as if Evie had crossed into a different void. Evie wasn’t at the party anymore. She wasn’t talking to Mason anymore, or leaning on the table, or anything that she had been doing not one second ago. She was back in the caravan park, in the moment that wrecked everything… That was what she felt uneasiness this entire time, why she felt hesitant in the first place to come here tonight, why her heart had been pounding like it was ready to make a runner. It's like she was stuck in the famous 'fight of flight situation' She knew it, but she didn’t let herself think so, because she knew how familiar it all was, how familiar right up to the blast- Her heart was no longer pounding, at least not where she could hear it. She couldn’t hear anything, as if her ears suddenly created a brick wall that blocked any semblance of sound from going in. There wasn’t even any of the static buzzing noise, instead replaced with an unfamiliar yet equally terrifying high-pitched noise that sounded like a whistle from hell. Evie wondered if she had suddenly gone deaf. Yet somehow it didn’t matter because she was more focused on the fact that she couldn’t hear her breaths, couldn’t blink, couldn’t feel her fingers, her heart, anything other than that usual numbing sensation that was intensified a hundred times fold. She has felt it before, she has experienced it before- she didn’t live with it, that wasn’t the right phrase to use, because whatever this was, it wasn’t living- but this is horrifying, terrifying, all consuming. And as always, even as she was hyperventilating, with that numbing feeling came mind-blowing panic, because she didn’t want to see what she had remembered too many times. She felt dizzy, sick, completely overwhelmed by fear. She tried to tell herself it was just a memory, because she could tell that’s what it was, a memory, why was she getting so worked up over it, nothing she could do to change any of it… but when she tried to remember that, that is never enough against the onslaught of memories that come flushing back- a hiss, a ball of fire erupting amid screams, grass splattered with blood, and a pale, lifeless arm, hanging from the side of a bed covered in sheets- I’m not there, I’m not there… Course you are. You never left it. “Evie?” Someone, distant, as if it was a ghost, was calling out to her, but she could barely hear them, not when her breathing was stuttering into a painful halt. She couldn’t breathe… couldn’t speak. Images were fluttering into her vision, poorly filtered and horribly askew, but she knew what they were, of who they were. She tried to hold on to them, to keep them there, to keep them close… but they always slipped through her imaginary fingers, faded away, and returned shortly only to disappear again… always in reach, yet impossible to hold onto… The whistle was getting louder and louder, bouncing along the base of her skull and the bruises she left there. Her head was suddenly erupting with short bursts of pain, pain that was probably making her wince. She didn’t know, she was barely noticing, because all she could focus on was making sure they stayed, her family, her friends, Oscar… She wanted to shout out to whatever was making these images float in her head, to scream at them to take her instead, to hurt her, don’t hurt them, leave them be- but it was all stuck in her tongue, as if the words took physical form and got stuck in her throat. All her thoughts were sludging together, except for one terrifying yet important mantra- She needed to stop this, she needed to stop them fighting, she needed to get them out. “Evie!” It’s suddenly sounding much more alarmed and accompanied by touch. Suddenly, as if she was staring out of a lenses, and the lenses were broken, because she can get a slight glimpse of Mason staring at her, his arms reaching out but keeping them from her distant. She could see he look worried, but she didn’t know what to say, and even if she did, nothing came out. This was worse, worse than all those other times her body shut down. It wasn’t just her physical body freezing now- her blood felt chilled to the bone. It was cold, but there was also a terrible burnt stench as well. Oxygen seemed to have disappear and left with the stench that was filling up her nose. It was all like one of her more constant nightmares, except she knew she wasn’t asleep (at least she thought she wasn’t). She had to get them out, she had to— Matt. Matt was right next to the barbecue, the last time Evie saw him. What happened to him, was he okay, was he hurt? She had to make sure he was okay, she had to save him, God, if he got hurt, and she wasn’t there too? “I… I got to find him.” I can’t find him anywhere, I can’t find him- Suddenly, the world was toppling over and Evie could feel a sudden, sharp crack of her knees through her panic as they buckled, and suddenly found herself on the ground. Out of all the times her body had endured, only now did it decide to fail? Now, when the only time it actually mattered- She was struggling to get up, trying yet failing. Pain, agony, sorrow, guilt… all those familiar feelings were now filtering around the vacant hole in her, and it was as if she was being kept down by some invisible force. Mason was bending down in front of her, the concern on his face alarmingly clear now. Evie could see his mouth moving, but she couldn’t hear any of it. Suddenly, what little remained of her hearing had left her again, and her vision was already swimming. It was all too much, too much to even focus on… but she needed to find him, she had to save him, every passing second she wanted to tear her chest open with her bare hands and rip out her own heart from the vice-like grip that was around it- Why did she come here? Why did she agree? This was all her fault, her fault for crashing like this, her fault for being here. How stupid was she, thinking she just go somewhere, intending only to be for a little while, and not expect everything to come crashing down, what if someone got hurt, why didn’t she learn from before, why did she had to put them all at risk, why couldn’t she save them- Evie could suddenly feel a weight on her arm, as if something had taken a hold of her, and she shook it off violently. Now, barely, ever so blurry, someone now bending down alongside Mason, obviously looking at her. She could distinctively hear them talking, but it was all dwarfed by that damn whistle in her ears. It was all so strange and dizzy that she actually took a brief moment to wonder if she actually did drink alcohol- even though she clearly remembered she didn’t. Her vision starts a constant yet irritating pattern- it would clear for a little while before fading into a fuzzy state. She could see Mason and the other person, a girl, taller than her with a blond plait resting against her shoulder- Jeannie, it’s Jeannie- and they both look so damned concerned, and Jeannie looks horribly confused and Evie feels so bad, because this is her fault, not theirs. She needed to get up, she needed to get her arms away from clutching her drawn-up knees- she doesn’t even remember doing that- but when she tries, she ends up on the ground again. Suddenly, that weight was on her arm again, but this time, it felt more steadying than grasping. A few words are now able to break through in her ears and she can hear the words ‘breath, come on, Evie, breath with…” and the rest fades away. She’s not even aware she’s still breathing, she thought she stopped that a while ago. Evie looked up and Jeannie was there, helping lower her to the ground, her thumb gently drifting over her knuckles in a soothing manner, but Jeannie also looks like she has no idea what to do, and Evie is just so sorry. However, she felt herself rising again, despite Jeannie’s silent insistence that she does the contrary. “I… I have to find him, I’ve got to get him out of here.” She couldn’t let herself fail now. She failed too many times before, she had to make this right at least. She was suddenly aware of herself digging her fingernails into her knees, breaking through the fabric of her jeans as hard as she can. She needed to focus, she needed to save them. “Okay, maybe, you need… you need to sit down,” Mason tried to tell her, trying to keep his face calm, but he could hear the clear panic in his voice that gave the lie to it. This was all the clear sign of a severe panic attack. He had seen her experience an anxiety attack before, but this… this looked so much worse. Evie looked so frightened, curled up into a ball despite her failed attempts to get up, and her eyes, despite their panicked gaze, looked as though she had gone off somewhere entirely different. He gotten her to try and take deep breaths, but her breathing was very fast, still raspy and shallow. This wasn’t good, she could pass out at any moment. Mason had seen what exhaustion can do before, but this really disturbed him. Jeannie still looked concerned and confused, but at least she was making sure Evie was staying where she was. He needed Matt to get here quick, hopefully he could get to her. “I…uh… I gotta get Matt, make sure… make sure she…” Mason didn’t know how to finish that sentence, but Jeannie seemed to have gotten the gist of it. He quickly moved his way through the party, weaving his way through drunken friends and others dancing along to the music. Finally he located Matt near the barbecue, talking to another lad who Mason thought was named Benji. “Matt- what happened?”, he asked, looking at the damaged barbecue. “Some idiot who drunk too much and decided to mess with the settings. Thankfully, no one was burnt,” Matt answered, seeming to catch his breath. “Why, what’s going on-” “We need you over here, Evie’s in some kind of trouble…” Mason said while pointing back to where he sorted out the drinks, but before he could finish his sentence, Matt was already racing towards where he was pointing, quickly running against the walls as to avoid the large crowd. Matt quickly made his way to where that girl Jeannie was bending over Evie who was crouched down against the ground. His heart was already pounding, and seeing Evie so distressed, looking painfully small and fragile, didn’t do anything to ease his mind. “Evie? Evie, what the hell happened?”. Evie, her eyes darting around wildly, didn’t hear him, her breathes coming out unsteadily and radically, her chest was heaving too badly and her hands grasping her knees like a lifeline. “What happened?!” he asked again, this time more urgently, and this time at Jeannie. “I don’t know, all I saw was her falling down,” Jeannie explained hastily, keeping one eye on Evie. “It looks like a panic attack, and a severe one. We need to give her the space otherwise we’ll make it worse,” she continued, before shaking off Matt’s confused gaze as to how she could tell this. Matt looked back at Evie, who was shuddering as she tried to keep her eyes open, as if keeping track of something she noticed in the corner of her eye. Matt didn’t not feel better with this information, how long had she been not looking after herself? “Evie, can you hear me?”, he asked again, urgently. Evie heard Matt’s voice in spite of the increasing sound of the whistle, rough, deep and an mixture of anger and concern. Suddenly she could feel herself tremble, and her heart, even while being clenched, was sinking below into unknown depths because he’s seeing her like this, he’s seeing her act like this… giving into anxiety and pain, and that made her eyes water up and her nails dig into her knees again harder, and deeper. If her breaths weren’t already irrational gasps, she would have gasped at the feeling of the skin breaking. She presses harder, and… suddenly, she can see Matt’s face a bit more clearer, breaking through the fog… and Matt, Matt who hates feeling helpless, who hates not being in the known, looks really worried, but he also looks… alive. Whatever happened back there, it didn’t hurt him. That was worth the embarrassment. Then why was the anxiety still there? Why was she still overwhelmed, and horrible, horrible, images remain stuck in her head- Oh. Evie was beginning to realise that it wasn’t just Matt she needed to find. “You…you need to get out,” she mumbled, her words sounded all slurred, even as she kept her mouth opened long after she said them. She was trying to get gulps full of air in again, but it doesn’t nothing. It’s as if her lungs have left her again, or else they’re still empty and won’t work. All the while, she was trying to block out that voice, that voice in the back of her head that insisted what she already knew, that it was too late… “What do you mean, Evie?” Matt asked, trying with desperation to bring his voice to a more gentle tone. Besides him, Jeannie and Mason were crouching around looking concern, Jeannie gently rubbing her thumb over Evie’s hand. “What do you need?” “You need to get out… it’s not safe…” Evie’s voice became more insistence, even though they felt too slow. “We… we need to find him…” “Evie, it’s okay,” Mason cut in patiently, and Matt felt a sudden urge of envy, because Mason was sounding more in control than he could manage. “It was just someone being stupid with the barbecue. Everyone’s fine.” No, no one was fine. No one was safe around her. Even the welcoming sight of Matt wasn’t enough to stop that certainty. “No… I have to… I have to stay away… he’s got to be okay, he’ has to be…” “Evie, we’re all here, what are you talking about?” Matt asked, his anxiety sneaking into his voice. She looked almost on the verge of tears and the lack of answers was driving him mad. He didn’t know what was going on, but maybe she saw the barbecue go up in smoke, but why would- And then the penny dropped. Actually, screw the penny, it was more like an anvil dropping, hitting him with all its force. God, no. Evie must have saw the fire, and… what if it made her remember… that day in the caravan park? Matt heard stories like that, where just the slightest reminder could spark… what did they call it… triggers. She was reliving all of it. It didn’t take a genius to know who he was. Matt never actually gone over what happened that day. He was able to get over it, focusing on helping Roo and Maddy, and for some reason he was never plagued with nightmares or anything like that about it, but he could distantly remember a sight of Evie dancing with Oscar not long before the explosion happened. Did she… Jesus, did she see him die? “Evie…” Matt asked gently, as if his voice had shrunk in the sheer shock of all of it. “You’re not there, okay. You’re here with us, you’re safe.” Evie shook her head violently, because now she can hear him, but she couldn’t have… it didn’t matter if she was safe, what mattered was that Oscar was safe. “No… no, he has to be here, we… we’re wasting time…I... I do-don't know w-hat's wrong with me…” she felt one hand leave its death-like grip on her left knee and started pulling at her head. “No, no, Evie, absolutely nothing's wrong with you, everything’s okay, you just need to keep breathing for us okay, that’s all we need you to do,” Matt said, his voice still remaining gentle even it felt as though he was fumbling the whole time. Matt’s stomach was twisting violently, and at the sight of Evie near tears as she kept insisting on the impossible, the octave in her voice inching higher and higher as she backed herself further into a ball, he was feeling sobs of his own reaching into his throat. Seeing Evie like this... so wrought with panic and pain… it brought back harsh memories of Maddy in that hospital bed, before and after she lost her arm. Those hours of despair and hopelessness that entrapped Maddy and kept Matt from helping. Unbelievable pain that neither Maddy nor Evie deserved and… what was he supposed to tell her? Keep insisting that she wasn’t back at that awful day, but doing that would be forcing her to remember that Oscar… Oscar wasn’t there anymore. He couldn’t do that to her. He felt completely out of his depth here, which burned away at him from the inside. Thankfully, Jeannie, who had some knowledge of what must have been happening, stepped in. “Okay, Evie can you hear me? Let’s take a deep breath and hold it… I know it’s really difficult right now, but let’s take a breath…” she told Evie. Evie turned her stricken gaze at her friend and tried, honestly tried to hold it in, but in her panicked state, it didn’t last long. Matt saw a sudden urge of guilt and shame in his best friend’s eyes when she exhaled and Matt wanted to bring her into a hug and assure her she was doing nothing wrong… but he didn’t know what reaction he’d get. This was far worse than when she almost had that breakdown when Kat confronted her, because at least then Evie had a bearing of her surroundings. This time, it looked as though it completely left her. Eventually, the distinct gaze left her, and though her gaze was more concentrated, the panic didn’t go away. She looked around her, becoming more aware of her surroundings, but she was still extremely tense, her entire body on alert even though now, Jeannie was certain, she knew where she was. Her gaze turning from Jeannie, to Matt, up to Mason, her mouth opened up as if to say something, but nothing came out except a chocked gasp. All her breaths were coming up in short, terrified gasps, and Jeannie felt there was nothing she could do other than keep sympathetically rubbing her hand, trying to give her something to hold onto. Matt was suddenly aware of a crowd nearby, watching the situation with interest. He thought he almost saw the flash of a mobile phone and felt a strong, savage urge to go over there and give whoever was filming this a piece of his mind, or knock some heads around. Restraining that impulsive nature of his, he turned to Mason and said in a low voice. “We need to get her out of here. We got to get her somewhere… safe.” Wherever that is, Matt wasn’t entirely sure, but thankfully, despite the heavy confusion clear on his face (for Mason was not there that day, he had no idea how Oscar died, let alone Evie was there when he did), Mason nodded quickly and without argument. That also sent a small wave of relief through Matt: if Mason, the medical student, thought there were no problems with it, he was making the right decision. Jeannie meanwhile, was asking Evie some basic questions. “Evie do you know where you are?” Evie nodded, albeit hesitantly, as if she was afraid of giving the wrong answer. “At… at the p-party, w-with you guys,” she answered slowly. And she did know that, she knew where she was, but that didn’t stop her vision being plagued with those memories, the burnt smell of ash and the too bright sight of fire. Jeannie nodded reassuringly, giving her a bright smile. As if she hadn’t just collapsed and freaked out in front of them. “Evie, we need to keep breathing okay, you’re doing a great job, but I need you to keep it up okay. Count with me, four breaths now...” Evie didn’t think she was doing a good job, because even through the whistle that was fading away, she could hear how desperate her breaths sounded. And she… she still needs to find them, she has to save them. They were her friends and family, and… they don’t let each other down, they don’t let them die, and they don’t let each other be afraid, and God… was Oscar afraid? Did he had the time to experience that moment of fear before… before… and Hannah… did she knew what was happening to her? Did she feel trapped, desperately begging for help from the inside, where no one could hear her…. It was all crashing down on her, them, everyone, all the flames, the wreckage, the death… it was clouding her senses again, as if she was underwater, drowning under poisoned water choking into her nose and mouth, and the whistle was getting louder, and this whole time, she had just been sitting here, all the while she could have done something… she didn’t even had the chance to say goodbye- Selfish, stupid, embarrassment, cowardly, bad… Murderer… Trapped in a circle with those words around her, prodding and stabbing at her with their viciousness, suffocating her with a barrage of hostility and anguish: you were never good enough, you are a failure, you’re pathetic, you let them die while all the time you were feeling sorry for yourself… “I know this, I know this, stop it, please!” Did she say those words out loud, did she only think them? She didn’t know, but she meant them. She already knew this, she knew how awful she was, she just needed them to stop, she… as pathetic as it probably was, she couldn’t take this anymore. She hated this, hated all of it. Just let her find them, make sure they’re safe, and then they can take her, end her life, whatever…just leave her alone. Suddenly, her eyes are opened again (she feels as though they were shut the entire time, thought that probably wasn’t the case), and she found herself in driving away in a car, the familiar vibrations and humming sound as it travelled down the road breaking through her ears’ barriers. She felt her panic rising, because she was totally unaware of how she got here, how she moved from her fetal position back in the yard to the car- a car with who knows else is here- but when her gaze travelled beside her, she could see Mason’s curly hair hanging in front of him as he kept looking at her. Evie registered she was in the back seat of… Matt’s car, she could recognise the interior of it well enough. And that was the back of Matt’s head in the front seat as he drove. Her hands were glued back to her knees even as they were shaking violently, gripping the skin underneath the fabric, and her breaths were still short and raspy. She didn’t knew how long she had until she passed out. “Evie… can you look at me please?” Mason’s voice was gentle, patient, not insisting, but Evie still shook her head, feeling tears gather in her eyes, and she could guess she was just moments away from sobbing. Mason’s voice sounded so compassionate, so patient and she didn’t deserve it, the echoes of Jeannie and Matt’s voices, also so caring and nice and she didn’t deserve any of it. They needed to leave, Mason needed to get away from her, didn’t he see how dangerous it was to be around her? How can they even be with her right now? “You… y-you ne-need to g-g-go… g-get away f-from me… it’s n… it’s not… safe…” “You’re okay, Evie, we…we’re going to back to Zac and Leah’s,” Mason told her. He couldn’t help but marvel at how calm he sounded, because all he felt was frantic anxiety, as well as sadness at seeing Evie trapped in this mental anguish. Her eyes were bloodshot, her face puffy and stained with tear tracks. This was far worse than he had ever seen her, she had it all collected for so long- which meant a breakdown like this was always going to happen. It was just a question of when, and how far the person has fallen. “Jeannie’s got your car and is following behind us… everything’ll be alright.” Even though he hadn’t the faintest idea of whether or not that would be true or not, and Evie, even in this state would know that. Evie jerked away from his words, looking more panicked that she coughed on her own gasps. “No… everything’s not okay, it’s not… no Zac… no Leah... I c-can’t…c-can’t hurt them…”, even in this state, even as she felt she was being suffocated by an invisible force, she was determined not to bring more people just to doom them as well, especially not them. They shouldn’t have to see her like this, they didn’t deserve that. Their lives would be more at risk than hers would. “No one’s going to get hurt, Evie, I promise,” Mason tried to reassure her, even as she looked around pleadingly. He may not know how they could be in danger, but her reluctance to go to Zac and Leah’s now was obvious. His sadness grew at her thinking that they shouldn’t see her like this, but he learned about this- the last thing anyone wants is for their loved ones to see them in anguish or pain. Maybe they ought to take her back to his siblings’ house, at least until she calmed down. Matt had already vetoed the idea of going back to her caravan, because the last thing Evie needed right now tonight was to be alone. “We’re just going to check everything, and you’ll be okay…” “No.” It was just one word, but for the first time, Mason could hear her clearly. He turned to her again, and Evie looked back at him. Despite her panicked state, her frazzled hair, the tears on her cheeks and her gasping for air, for the first time Evie’s gaze was more focused- and Mason felt himself frozen in shock at how much pain and anger were in her eyes. More than anyone should have. “I don’t want to be o-okay… it’s my...my fault, all of it… I deserved it…” “No, Evie it isn’t… you don’t deserve it, you don’t…” Mason kept his voice quiet as he tried to get across to her. He didn’t want to disrupt Matt’s driving, who was on enough of an edge, and he felt Matt would feel worse if he knew what Evie was saying. He doubted either of them heard her talk like this, talk with so much pain and grimness. Maybe that was why Matt had offered to drive while Mason sat with her… Matt wanted to help Evie, he wanted to make sure she was okay, but all of these emotions… they were hard for one person to deal with, at least without falling apart themselves. Mason felt as though he was hanging on by a thread, and he didn’t know Evie as well as Matt did. Then came a soft, defeated voice that was almost on the verge of sobbing; “I should be dead, I should have died…” Mason felt himself recoil in shock, as Evie’s gaze turned more agitated, like an animal looking for a way to escape but no hope in sight, as her hands left her knees and started griping her hair harshly. His chest tightened at her words, and how terrifying accepting she sounded by it, by the idea of her own death. He didn’t know how he could even respond to that. And just to cement his fears, her hands alarmingly folded into tight fists that she started pressing harder against her forehead. Thankfully, Mason had enough sense despite the horror he felt to quickly grab Evie’s arms and pull them away from her head before she could do herself anymore damage. After what she said, Mason had to prepared for When he was holding them in his hands, he could see her fingernails were tinged red. He forced himself to look back down at Evie’s leggings and the small, nail-sized places where she had been digging her nails. “They’re… they’re g-gone… and… I c-could h-ha…h-have stopped it… I could have…everything I… everything I…”, Evie’s sight was slowly going dark, and she felt she was losing conscious, loosing what little remained of her hold on her senses. Her lungs might as well have been non-existent, but that was okay, it didn’t matter, her gasps were becoming few in between. She had planned to kill herself anyway, maybe this was how she did it to herself? She just wished they weren’t here to see this. “We got to get her to the hospital. Tori’s on station tonight,” Mason called out to Matt, already taking out his phone to call his sister ahead. Matt nodded, but when Mason looked at his friend clearly again, his body was shaking and he was gripping the wheel as tight as any person. Did he hear what Evie said? Evie barely heard this, giving into the fight to sink into the dark abyss. She was just able to stammer out, “I’m… I’m so s-s-sorry…” (because deep down, that was all she was, just utterly and completely sorry), and then she was already sinking, being swallowed whole by complete exhaustion. Hopefully this time, as her eyes closed, she wouldn’t wake up… ---- Matt quickly stopped the car as soon as he got to the hospital’s entrance and jumped out as quickly as he could. He ran around the back so he could open the back door, and saw Mason arranging an unconscious Evie in the back. He had lay her on her side, and under Mason’s instructions, Matt, without knowing particularly why, gently tilted her chin up in order to open her airway. “We got to keep her like this until they can send a stretcher out for her, it will make sure she won’t have any more trouble breathing,” Mason told him, his voice remaining calm even though he had a face of someone being told he would need surgery. Matt nodded vaguely, feeling a bit overwhelmed and really upset. He was suddenly aware of the wetness on his cheeks as if to remind him, and he was just wishing this night never happened, wishing Evie didn’t had to go through any of this, wishing she hadn’t been so alone, wishing she hadn’t pushed everyone away because she felt she deserved to be alone, wishing she hadn’t felt she deserved to be alone, and above all else, wishing she didn’t mean those words… I should have died… Matt nearly stopped the car in the middle of the road in shock as soon as he heard it, completely paralysed by what felt like ice stabbing into his veins, his stomach continuously twisting painfully and his throat suddenly gone dry, like everything had suddenly left him and came rushing back too quickly, in a scream. It must have been how she felt (felt this entire time), a chaotic mess of emotions and feelings all screaming in her head. And what made it worse was that she did mean them, she must have. It was all gathering together to form a picture, and the picture was not a good one. Evie was smart, she would never be one of those people who would say something… something that held so much weight and not mean, or mean it like some sick idea of a joke. Hearing her guilt, actually feeling guilty for what happened to Oscar and Hannah, as if it was her fault, it was all so unreal… as if it was all happening in a nightmare, that all of this was happening to his amazing friend… That she was so full of self-hatred, she actually believed what happened to them was her fault... never. A hand gripped his shoulder tightly and he turned, wet eyes and all, towards Jeannie, who had parked behind them and was now bending down to help Evie. “Bend her left arm and bring it to support her head, it will help her breath better,” she said quietly and assertively, as if she had seen this before and knew what to do, which was very much needed right now. Matt was quick to do it, do anything to make Evie more comfortable as possible, even when she was unconscious. He gently stroked Evie’s hair away from her forehead, a small attempt to comfort her, as he slowly pulled up her arm and set it to rest below her cheek, which was blowing out as Evie made uneasy attempts to breath, but then, the sleeve of her jumper slipped and fell as he was moving it, and he saw… He saw… He saw it and Matt suddenly felt the urge to tear his eyes out just so he could stop seeing it. But even if he did, he knew he would see it forever. It was just a thin, pale line that marked itself onto near Evie’s wrist, outlined by purple shades on the skin. Matt may not be as medical-wise as Mason or Jeannie here, but even he could tell what this was. He felt completely immobile, his hands cold in sweat and his heartstrings were pulling so hard he was almost afraid they might break. Matt didn’t know where to go from here. At least before he had an idea of where to go, was committed to the idea of helping Evie see past her pain, but that was before it got this bad, this bad that Evie had felt the need to hurt herself (or was that scar an attempt to take her own life? Did she try to kill herself before? How many more were there? He had too many questions and too many fears for the answers). He had to place a hand on the roof of his car to steady himself, all the while wishing he could turn back the clock, find someway for him to notice what was going on and stop it before Evie did herself harm… because he didn’t know how to make things better from here. When he spoke again he can hear the sob catching in his voice. “Anything else we need to do?”, he asked desperately, looking at the other two as he carefully, ever so carefully, pulled the sleeve up so that it would cover her scar before anyone else noticed. This, he knew without any doubt, was Evie’s to tell, he would do anything to help her get through this, but this… he didn’t feel right talking about it while she was incapable of doing so right now (he already felt an irrational amount of guilt just by seeing this without her consent. That was what Olivia had suggested, and it was what Matt promised. Olivia must have known, somehow, she could tell what no one else could, and as soon as Evie was taken care of, Matt needed to talk to her, to know what else he could do for Evie. Before anyone could answer, two of the hospital staff were arriving, a stretcher at hand so they could set Evie on it. Without a word, Matt, Mason and Jeannie set Evie up and with the help of the paramedics, placed her gently on the stretcher. They were asked quick questions and they all did their best to answer: no, she hadn’t taken any alcohol, no, there were no drugs, she looked very much under-weight, they didn’t know the last time they ate… He was already in the hospital before he knew it, Evie being raced through the hospital, with Mason talking to Tori about a low blood sugar and her breathing problems and before he knew it, she was being rolled into a room, leaving Matt and Jeannie in the hallway. There were other people around, but they were thankfully left alone. Jeannie collapsed in a chair, exhaustion clear on her face as she wrapped a hand around her blond hair. Matt remained standing, holding his head in his hands and trying to handle the emotions he was left with: anger, sorrow, horror, despair, grief, and guilt that he couldn’t do anything to help his friend before. The whole hallway was spinning in front of him and his chest ached at how much pain she was in, knowing how powerless he was to help, and how terrifying it was to see her so frail, so panicked so… desolate. Jeannie stood up and lightly touched Matt’s shoulder. They didn’t know each other well, only as acquaintances of other friends, but tonight, there was no denying how much this man was hurting at the sight of his friend suffering, how much he cared for her, and how much, no matter if he denied it, of a shoulder he needed to lean on. He saw something even worse going on as well, Jeannie could see that, but she didn’t pry. Evie had clearly been suffering from her grief, and it affected how she took care of herself. She wondered if it could be a case of a traumatic disorder, which meant finding out what was going on with Evie was only half the battle. She didn’t offer anything to say, because… what was there to say? Matt looked up, his hands falling from his face, unwashed tears shedding from his eyes, as he considered drying them away. He never liked being so emotional in public, especially with people he didn’t know. It felt as though only when he was around people he was close to could he expose himself in such a way. However, seeing her handle Evie tonight, helping to look after her so expectantly, made him shake away that vulnerability, at least for now. “I… I think I might just…I need to…” Matt tried to say, but it felt his words were all jammed up in his throat. He hated the idea of leaving now, hated leaving Evie in her time of need, even rationally he knew there was nothing he could do at this point, other than leaving the professionals to do what they have to, but he hated abandoning her. Jeannie understood, and patted him on the shoulder. “It’s okay. Go, I’ll stay here for a while and I’ll call you back if anything changes,” she assured him, smiling reassuringly on the back. She got it, when seeing someone you care about suffering so badly, especially at their own hand… it is a monstrously lot to take in, and you need a moment to collect yourself and your emotions. You can’t be any help to someone unless you’re sure you’re in the right headspace. Matt nodded hesitantly, and slowly walked away, breathing heavily and clasping a hand over his eyes to brush away the tears. That was one thing he wasn’t ashamed of- after seeing his resilient, amazing friend breakdown, give up… he didn’t know how else to react. That was not what Evie was supposed to look like- beaten down and extremely distressed and… lifeless. Lifeless. How dare that word lingered in Matt’s mind. He had looked in the rear mirror just in time to see Evie collapse: her eyes fighting to remain open. Those weary eyes must have felt like a hundred pounds to Evie, and Matt may not know everything right now, but he did know that he hated that sight, of her having to fight for the mundane, and he never wanted to see that happen to her again. He made his way down to a smaller hallway, where he could take a breath without anyone noticing. He did pass Nate as he was doing rounds, and the doctor asked him in concern. Matt just gently shook him off, not knowing if he had the words to explain the situation right now. But then… it hit him. Zac and Leah. They don’t know what happened, Matt had to call them, let them know. Evie may not be talking to them right now, but for all sakes and purposes, she might as well be Zac’s daughter. He needed to tell them what happened, tell them to get up here. He didn’t know what to tell them, or how much of the story was his to tell without violating Evie’s privacy. Telling it to doctors was one thing, that was necessary, but to people he and Evie knew, and cared about… that was harder, more complicated than it ever had to be. He picked up his phone and dialled Leah’s number, all the while cursing in his mind this entire year: for taking Hannah and Oscar from them all, for causing so much damage and hurt to Evie, to Chris, to Maddy, to Zac and Leah, to himself, to Roo… and he cursed Andy, Tank and Josh for good measure as well. He understood what Evie said before a greater deal now. The fact that they were all somewhere else, living free while good people pay the price for their actions… it makes his blood boil. “Leah…” Matt answered hesitantly, trying to hold back a sob, because if he started, he didn’t think he’d stop. “You and Zac need to get down to the hospital quickly. It’s Evie.” Holy Mother, this was really hard to write. At times I honestly felt I needed the crowd from Monty Python and the Holy Grail shouting ‘Get on with it!’ for me to continue. Note: Jeannie is the girl whom Evie set up with Brody at a volleyball match in 2016. All jokes aside, I admit I have some regrets about not taking this story down some roads I intended to, but overall I remain defiant of those doubts and will continue. This stuff is very important to me, and being afraid of talking about this emotional stuff is never cowardly, though it is easy for people who suffer from it, like Evie is, to believe it is. Next chapter’s going to be a belter, expect lots of tears from all sides. But, finally, the next chapter will mark a change, and with it, will soon come the beginning of recovery, because by God, Evie definitely deserves it.
  11. Thanks, Red. I decided it was time that someone looked past the worry and try and see things from where Evie was coming from. Her family and friends have been trying, but now without mistakes and false assumptions of their own. Matt has a lot of understandable concern and annoyance at how his and Evie's friendship has suffered as a result, which stems back from his own history of relationships ending badly, but I believe, because of that, he can get a better understanding of what she is going through, and how deep down, even though Evie herself never thinks about it, how scared she actually is, which is going to be developed further in the next chapter. On the other hand, even if he knows more know, Evie still won't (also understandably) immediately just accept that encouragement when she remains crushed by the belief that she doesn't deserve it. I'll be honest with you, it has been more difficult than I can imagine writing this, but also because of how the relationships are impacted. This story is about Evie and her journey, but it's also important how her mental health affects the people around her, and how their own journeys affect her. They're still human, and as a result, it gets messier than any of them would like. Anyway, next chapter has something big coming up that will spice things up, so stick around for that!
  12. Chapter 15 Beat, beat, beat… Evie felt her hands tapping in a constant, nervous-sounding beat off the table as she struggled to keep her eyes open, her senses barely working even when she was trying to get a sense of what was in front of her. This was important, she needed to pay attention, and while she kept looking over the marked papers in front of her and fixing anything she saw she missed, her eyes felt like playing tricks on her. She couldn’t tell right now whether or not what her hands were doing was because she was trying to keep herself awake, or else the trembling of her knuckles that was causing her hands to almost bump up and down against the hard wood on the desk she was currently sitting at. She had literally no idea why she was here. Well, that wasn’t new, she was wondering why Zac was giving her- what was this, her third, fourth chance?- but what she was wondering was why she showed up. She could have just stayed in bed, refused to answer any calls, she felt that strong, extremely tempting desire to just stay there- but then again, that was what she wanted to do, that was her own selfish desire. She didn’t know whether or not to believe her own words that at least she was keeping herself away from hurting anyone else. But isn’t showing up also what you want? Some small, ever-shrinking part of you seems so insistent in trying to impress everyone else, as if trying to show you could do what anyone else would find easy to do. As if that would make up for everything, or make them even like you. Isn’t that the most pathetic thing you’ve ever heard? But she already knew this, she wasn’t looking for any sort of approval… or at least, she hoped she wasn’t. Zac, for some ungodly reason, had asked her to do this, and even though she messed up, even though he had shown her far more patience than she deserved, even before she had made him upset, she was still here. She owed him to at least help around here as long as he needed her to, she owed him so much more than she could ever give him. She was just so numbingly worried that she would just being selfish again, just shamelessly grabbing at any opportunity to make herself feel better… Only that idea didn’t make much sense. If what she and Nadia had spoken about before, if she never really felt that working meant that much to her anymore, that it didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things- then how could she expect it to make her feel better? How would that work? Then again, more importantly, if none of it mattered, then why was she even here, if it didn’t matter if her helping Zac like this would make any difference. Evie doesn’t know how she was able, day after day, to muster the audacity to breathe the same air as everyone else around her; Zac, Phoebe, the teachers who time from time give her concerned looks, the students. Hadn’t she inflicted enough pain on her family and friends’ lives without having to inflict it on people who were supposed to rely on her to do her job, whether she knew them or not? Still, somehow, she resolved not to let any of it show, at least not in work. Not only would it be extremely unprofessional, but none of them deserved to see her anger or bitterness. That was the thing about her reduced work schedule that showed Zac made the right move, even if he didn't understand- at least there was less chance of her accidentally or being pushed into blowing up like a volcano in front of people. She just wished she didn't ruin this opportunity in the first place, to make Zac lose faith in her- as if he hasn't already. She had to control it- that remained the single constant that remained with her all this time, the only thing that kept her relatively sane, to not to express it. She expressed enough of it through her weak attempts to get Zac and Leah to see that she was a hopeless cause. It wasn’t as though she wanted to be bitter when she did it, she could have found a better way to show to them, to show they didn’t have to worry, that they were better off without her without hurting them. She didn’t try hard enough and she knew better than to crawl back asking for a chance to explain herself. Because that anger and bitterness was still there. It all made its way into her words and remained a deep part of her. Maybe that was what she was all along, maybe now did it show itself. Why did she let it? Maybe Nadia had a point about how letting that anger fester only makes it worse, but it still didn’t make it right for her to hard to be around, to act all miserable and angry. Grabbing the papers, she stood up and gritted her teeth, the only way she acknowledged the pain on her knees and legs. She was supposed to help correct some of these exam papers before they were sent to the teacher. She just hoped she did them right. Obviously she knew that the teacher would just fix any mistakes that she forgot about or made herself, but she reckoned that if she was given this task to do, she ought to do it right in the first place, not leave it for someone else to fix for her- She was suddenly stopped on her walk through the hall when she felt her knees weaken. Every step felt like complete agony (Physical? Emotional? Evie felt it made no difference) and the muscles in her left shoulder might as well have been screaming at her this morning. It was a wonder that she didn’t collapse out of bed the very first thing. And then, there were her elbows, the elbows where the scars were. It felt like they were burning, at every move she made, as if each single one of the cuts that she made, were trying to rip and claw away at every cell, at every bit of what was left of her body. Evie knew she should have had more than just that couple of sandwiches to eat this morning. She had been getting her breakfast from Salt ever since she moved out, very early in the morning or late in the evening for her to store in the fridge for the next day. It wasn’t much, usually what she ate on a daily basis was poorer than what she did before to keep her strength up. Brody, Mason’s brother, took notice at how thin she looked, even under the layers she wore, and always tried to encourage to take a bit more, but she always refused as patiently as she could. Not only was she saving much of her money for rent, but she didn’t really care about being thin, or eating more. Not when she didn’t deserve to be strong, not when the only place she really should be is a hole in the ground. But now… Evie may not have an expert understanding of the human body, but she knew her body was going to have physical limitations, and with the amount of food she was consuming had been little to none for a long time now, she shouldn’t have been surprised at how her body felt like failing her now. Oscar… Oscar had gone through the same thing, two years ago. He had almost worked himself to the point of collapse. Did he experience these feelings as well back then as well? Oscar wasn’t doing well back then, and she knew he was experiencing those feelings of guilt and self-loathing (after so much time of feeling it herself, the idea of him feeling just a glimpse of it made Evie feel nauseous). She and everyone else tried to support him, but could she have done more? Could she have done more to get him through that dark time? It was a weird time to think of it, but thinking about what he went through, she couldn’t help but think- but it was worse then, worse because Oscar went through it, and he didn’t deserve it, all of that, the community service, the panic attacks, all of it happened because she made him, because she made him cover up what happened to Tamara, because she was scared of losing him, and all it proved was that she was incapable of doing the right thing- Suddenly, the entire hall seemed to be flying upwards, as if gravity had suddenly abandoned the situation and fled to somewhere else. It took the harsh, almost cracking sound of her knees hitting the cold, tile floor to realise she was the one who had fallen down. The papers that she had tucked so carefully in her hands, as if they were made of plastic that would shatter at the slightest touch, went spilling out over the open floor. Her hands were gripping onto the floor by her sides, as if already preparing herself to get back up, but her legs were not cooperating with that demand, rising with her knees scraping along the floor only to freeze mid-way to success. She screwed her face in an attempt to make sure she didn’t start crying, the whole thing was embarrassing enough without her sobbing. She reached out and grabbed the papers and pushed her onto her heels. Somehow she got into a sitting position and was gathering the paper in her arms and try and get them into order, she could correct this. She heard murmurs behind her, so people must have seen her fall, and even though she hated herself for that, there was nothing she could do about that now, she just had to get the papers- “Evie, you okay?” Suddenly another pair of hands was beside her, gathering the papers in their arms to hand them to her. And though the rush of irritation and anger that Evie felt rising in her throat was ridiculous and unfair, because whoever it was (her fuzzy brain had yet to dredge up to her knowledge who it was), they were just trying to help, but she felt the guilt of having someone helping her, and she needed it just to stop. God, you couldn’t even walk down a hallway right. When are people ever going to see that you can’t handle anything right? Why do you keep letting them think otherwise? She looked up hesitantly, to see Phoebe looking at her with concern even as she was still focused on getting the students’ works together. “Phoebe…thanks, but… I’ve… I’ve got this,” Evie spluttered, not knowing what else to say as she collected all the papers that weren’t currently in Phoebe’s arms. The older girl helped her up despite Evie distancing herself back into a wall as fast as she could. She could see students glancing over at them, and she couldn’t blame them. That didn’t do much to ease her. “You sure?” Phoebe asked the younger girl, tilting her head at her in concern. “It look like you took a nasty fall there.” “It’s nothing, I should have been more careful of where I was walking,” Evie muttered. “Besides I’m supposed to get these to Mr McGarry.” “Listen, let me take these to him and you sit down and-” “I don’t need to sit down, I got this Phoebe, okay?” Evie replied sharply. Her muscles in her back was tightening to breaking point. The lights were getting way too brightly for her and it was becoming a lot harder to think. But there was more to it than that. She didn’t want Phoebe’s concern, she was a staff member, she ought to be perfectly capable of handling this herself. “Okay, I was just asking, you look like you needed a break, that’s all,” Phoebe replied, not even bothering to keep the offence out of her voice. Evie had been hard to be around for a while, and it was clear that the week she took off did not do herself any favours. She was still a hard worker (Phoebe only needed to glance at the work she was carrying to know that), but her mood has not lightened up, which meant when it came to jobs involving the students, Evie had mostly been passed over. And it wasn’t just that. Phoebe heard Zac talk about how Evie was having trouble eating and if Phoebe hadn’t told him about her trips up to Salt every morning, Zac would probably be going down to Evie’s caravan everyday with food. Now, Phoebe could see, with the jumper hanging off from Evie’s arms, the hollowness of her cheeks, the sunken eyes, that she really wasn’t eating well. It was as if the jumper was close to swallowing Evie whole. Phoebe reached out and took Evie by her arm, near her sleeve. “You’re not being a bother, maybe we could go to the staffroom and-” “Don’t touch me!” Evie shouted quickly, pulling away from Phoebe’s hand. It was as if the moment Phoebe touched her arm, so close to pulling off her sleeve, so close to the cars, it was as if that single movement broke through the entire haze. She felt that immediate urge to hide away, to run away even though she was more likely to crawl than run. The two girls stared at one another, complete in shock of what happened and not knowing what to say, unaware of that someone had scurried across the other end of the hall without being noticed. “I just… just…sorry… don’t…” she couldn’t make any coherent sentences, but she looked up to Phoebe with a look of fear, as she tried to get her to understand. There was probably guilt there too, because she felt guilt for reacting like this in front of Phoebe. “I need it on.” “Okay,” Phoebe’s body was as stiff and shocked as her tone was. “Sorry, I just thought you could do without it. Let’s just talk about it. You’re obviously got some stuff going on, and I can help if you want.” “Phoebe, save it. I wasted enough of your time by just being here, I’ll sort this out on my own.” Evie took a few steps back into a corner as she kept the papers close to her. Phoebe was just trying to help, but she didn’t understand, she didn’t understand how getting involve was such a big mistake. Besides, it wasn’t any of Phoebe’s business as to how much she was eating. Evie refused to drag the other girl down with her by trying to make her feel better and besides, there wasn’t anything she could do that would help in the long run. Because she would just screw this up even if she was in perfect health. She just needed to deliver these papers and then maybe sit down. That said, though, the thought occurred to her that she should let someone know about how physically incapable she felt at the moment. It wasn’t good, whatever it was, whether it was the lack of food, the tiredness or who knows what else was going on with her. She may deserve it, but no place can have an employee who can’t even stand up straight. If she was given another job to do, what if she fell down again and this time there wouldn’t be Phoebe to help her, and she screws it up? Yeah, the papers she was currently clutching in her hands like a lifeline were fine, she just needed to organise them again before she brought them to Mr McGarry, but what if something happened to them when she slipped? Evie should have gotten this sorted ages ago, she was good at keeping on her toes, even after all of… this settled in her mind. But she needed to think about how she explains it. She obviously can’t tell them the full story, not all of it, least of all of what was under her sleeves, but… but she can’t make it look like she was trying to skit off work or anything, she just didn’t think she could do much in her state. She could sense Phoebe still there (Evie shouldn’t really be surprised, Phoebe was always like a dog following a bone, never giving in) and she should just tell her, so she could let the other teachers know, they needed to know- Know what, how lazy you are? It’s one thing to be here when no one wants you, but it’s another thing to try and slack off with what they ask you to do because you’re just uncomfortable with it! Haven’t you given them enough reason to be sick of you, to hate you? “Evie?” Phoebe asked softly, seeing Evie frozen as in mid-thought as she approached her. Her face was furrowed and her eyes seemed to blazing over in a look that just looked so angry. Phoebe didn’t know how to deal with that, she just hoped that anger wasn’t directed at her. “You alright? You’ve been on your feet for a while now, maybe you should just stop-” “No, I just need to work,” Evie answered. “I’ll try not to mess up again-” “Evie, it’s not about work, this could be serious. Zac should know, if you’re hurt in anyway-” “I’m not hurt, Phoebe, I just…” Evie sighed, running a hand through her hair quickly. “I’ll go tell him, okay? But I’ll stop when I have to.” She walked slowly, as if not to cause her legs to collapse again. She hated the idea of going easy on herself, but she wanted to avoid another scene. She didn’t know whether or not she would tell Zac, if she could get the answer to the question of either messing up again in her state or letting him down by admitting she couldn’t do the job. Evie had never wanted to make a fuss, or to make anyone else make a fuss about her. She wanted to be the one who kept the help coming, to be the person for everyone else to rely on for a smile. That was what she kept onto ever since all of this happened, she wanted to be the person who helped them, but when they kept on worrying about her, despite all her insisting that they shouldn’t, and the guilt she tried to buried came rushing up, it only felt like she wasn’t the right person for that job, the one that would only make things worse if she tried. She hesitated for a moment, thinking about going back to Phoebe and explain her freakout from earlier, but her brain couldn’t come up with anything other than either the truth or just plain lies and Evie shouldn’t lie. But that freakout wasn’t normal, Phoebe could surely tell. It was as if she was on the verge of breaking down everytime someone got close or touch her, made her feel like she was carrying a big weight and was being crushed by it. That isn’t how normal people would react with their family and friends. All it shows is that how wrong you were to stay all this time. As if they wanted to know your problems, but you staying was worse. Did you want them to get hurt, do you want them to die? Because that’s what happen if you stay, you know that. And Evie did know that, she knew that no matter what anyone else believed (they don’t know the full story, I kept it from them), she poisoned everyone around her by just being there. But then Nadia’s words even as Evie had walked out of their last session ringed through the fogginess of her brain and into her ears: Just because you stay away doesn’t mean what happens to you doesn’t affect your family. You all may have made mistakes, but you all still love another and need one another. Just don’t wait for that to them to give up themselves, because no one can wait forever. Evie had gone over those words over and over again, and found it made little difference. They shouldn’t care, not about her, and she won’t make them. Even if Zac made false assumptions, and even if, as much as she tried to hide it, a small part of her felt wounded, that also doesn't mean he was wrong about other things either. Even Nadia’s point about ‘correlation not causation’… Evie couldn’t take that chance that she could be wrong, that she was the cause of all of it. She felt enough guilt that she couldn’t convince herself otherwise if she wanted to, which meant if she just accepted that, or ignored it, she’d be putting everyone else at risk if she did. I’ll stop when I have to. Evie couldn’t help but think about how that meant more than just stopping work. ------ “You okay, Mason?” Matt asked as he drank from the bar. His friend was being uncharacteristically quiet today, deep in thought. “Difficulty at work?” “What? Oh, no, it’s going okay, for now at least,” Mason told him, sipping from his own drink after he answered. “Well, as well as it can when working with siblings.” He couldn’t help but feel a bit nervous about this, even though he knew that Matt was cool with almost anything, it was different when it came to Evie. In spite of their arguments, Matt was still really worried and protective about Evie, so as much as Mason had initially believed that he’d be fine with it, the doubts were creeping into his reasoning now. “Seriously man, what’s up?” Mason took a deep breath and spoke. “I’ve been hearing from my friends that there’s a party this Saturday and… I don’t know, maybe you want to come along.” Well, that wasn’t exactly he had planned but Mason guessed he wanted to ease his way into the conversation, apparently by inviting Matt as well. “Sure, yeah, that’ll sound fun,” Matt said bemusedly, a wry smile passing on his lips. “But I’m guessing there’s more going on, otherwise you wouldn’t be looking like you got someone pregnant.” Following a short moment of silence coming from Mason’s end, Matt’s eyes widened. “Wait, did you-” “No, nothing like that,” Mason said quickly, feeling a bit irritated already. He couldn’t get the idea out of his head of him being a third wheel in this friendship. “Listen, the thing is… I was planning to invite Evie along as well?” Matt looked back at him with surprise, his smile gone and his face morphing into an unreadable look. “Why are you telling me and being all nervous about it?” Mason shrugged, not entirely sure himself what reaction he was expecting and what one he was hoping for. “I don’t know… I guess, I know things haven’t been easy between the two of you for a while, I just wanted to know if it was alright.” Matt only felt more confused by Mason’s reasoning. Did he really think that he needed to ask Matt for permission? “Mason, Evie’s her own person, she can make her own decisions,” Matt replied before his insecurities kicked in and added in a somewhat indifferent tone. She has always decided for herself, without wanting to rely on others. “For better or worse.” “I know that,” Mason insisted, even though he didn’t consider that much. Obviously, he knew Evie could make her own decisions, but after everything that was going on, Mason believed he needed more than his word. “It’s just that… I just thought I might ask you, to wonder if she’d be okay if I asked.” Matt snorted. “And you think that would work? She kept refusing my offers to hang out, why would she say yes to you?” he asked bitterly. Mason’s offence rankled. “Okay, maybe I don’t know her as well as you do, but that doesn’t mean I can still help her. I mean, when’s the last time you actually talked to her?” Matt glared at him, irritation rising. “I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to Evie in a while now and apparently that’s what she wants right now. Apparently me asking her what was wrong after spending time giving her space didn’t help.” He shrugged and leaned against the table, looking at Mason helplessly. His memory was dragging him back to the last time he saw Evie; looking so rattled and disorientated, her eyes drowning in what he saw as pain and anger and exhaustion. And it had shown in on the weary lines on her face, the looseness of her hands, how frightened and out of breath she was when Kat ambushed the pair of them. All the while Matt was there and he could do nothing. He had given her space because despite his tone, he knew she asked for it. Some bitter part of him wondered why he was still bothering about her, if she was so insistent on being alone, but the rest of him knew better, and fought with the undefeatable desire that to help her. “You know, there are times I wish I can be angry at her. I mean, she won’t talk to me, she’s… she’s so angry, even when she was trying to hide it. She doesn’t trust me enough to tell me what’s going on, she won’t let me help, and… what else am I supposed to do? But I can’t be angry, not really. Because when I spiralled a long time ago… she was there to help. And this isn’t just some… I don’t know, her being in a bad mood or anything. I may not know much, but I know there is something seriously wrong going on with her. After everything she lost… it makes sense that she would still be suffering. This just… doesn’t get fixed overnight. There… there had to be something going on with her earlier, some way I could have realised it and… do more to help. But how can I do that if she doesn’t let me? I don’t want to force her-” “You were never forcing her-” “Well, how can I know that Mason? I’m not a mind reader, I can’t tell what it is. I mean, ever since Josh left…. We were always good friends, me and her, but then it was just the two of us left. Even after what Josh did to her… back then, Evie was still being so kind and wanted to help out anyway she could… things changed. She was acting as if… as if I didn’t want to be around her. And I didn’t get it, what did I do to make her feel that way? She said it wasn’t my fault, and that I did all I could… but she was holding stuff back, I know it…” Matt trailed off, caught in his own turmoil. Mason looked at the irritation was leaving Matt’s expression and felt his own offence shrinking at seeing how much this was troubling his friend. “But maybe it wasn’t about trust. Maybe it was just because Evie didn’t want you to worry,” Mason suggested. “I mean, she was still wrong leave you thinking this stuff, but… I doubt it’s the easy thing for her to do, to keep it all wound tightly up inside. Maybe she thought it was for the best.” Matt thought about it, and maybe it made sense. Evie had told him plenty of times stuff like “Don’t worry” or “I can’t complain”, and it all felt as though she was trying to diminish whatever was going on with her. “Well yeah, she didn’t want to talk about her problems, and probably she was trying to look after me by keeping it to herself, but… doesn’t that also say something about trust? I… I’m not going to judge her for her issues, she has more of a right than most to vent about what happened, but… she could have trusted me for her to… I don’t know, express it, talk about it with me. I don’t really want her to do anything else than just be honest.” And to Matt, that was the crux of it. Evie never had to hide anything not from him, whether he agreed with her or not. Mason looked away and sighed. “Well, I guess that’s true. I get it. But… I don’t know, if we can convince her to come to the party this weekend… I don’t know, maybe it can help her.” Matt didn’t look convinced. “I don’t know how it would change anything. Why, after all this time of being alone, would she say yes?” Mason looked like he was on the verge of talking about something else before Matt thought of something else. It was the raw terror on her face that night outside the Surf Club. “It’s just that…the last time I saw her… she had a bad reaction when someone confronted her… it was so strange… it was as if her body was trying to shut down or something…is that normal?” “I…I don’t know,” Mason answered honestly. This was the first time he was hearing about something like that, and he couldn’t think about how this happened. Though.... he could remember the last time he and Evie had a talk together, the anxiety attack she had. He had never mentioned it to Matt, because he didn’t know if it was his business, and right now he wasn’t sure if it was either of their business right now. “So what’s your point?” Matt shrugged at that response. “So, what do we know would happen if she finds herself in a party with lots of people getting drunk, with guys wanting to do… you know…” Mason deflated and internally recoiled at what Matt was referring to. He hadn’t thought about that, and he didn’t like that they had to talk about it. “Maybe you’re right, but… we have to do something. It would show that we want her to be included. Maybe that’s what she needs, to know that she deserves to have friends” Mason suggested. Of course, he didn’t know this was the case to be sure, but from his learning when it came to mental health, people who experienced loss suffered from loneliness. Matt looked over to him and ran his hands over his hair. “Of course she deserves to have friends. I want her to be included!” “I know that, and you know that. Does she know that?” Mason asked reasonably and maddingly calm. And Matt didn’t know how to answer that. Because he feared it was the truth. “It’s just… the things she said… she was acting as though she ruined my night when she didn’t do anything, and….I never noticed it, I never saw it for what it was. She’s lost so much, and it’s so clear she’s still suffering even after all this time…” He gave a frustrated sigh as he finished the rest of his drink. This year had been painful enough for them all, did it have to get worse? Matt wasn’t stupid, he knew that things weren’t going to automatically be okay, or that things would be okay for a while, but it still sucked. Mason didn’t know what else to say, because he didn’t feel he could connect to what Matt and Evie and everyone else had gone through this year. He wasn’t in the Bay for any of it, he could only watch it from a stranger’s perspective. It was both fascinating and annoying for him to do so, fascinating to hear about other people’s lives that weren’t his family, and annoying that he didn’t feel as involved as he probably should have. Before he could think of something to say, Matt was off again. “Maybe I’m still lost about how things changed, you know. I mean, I loved that even after what she lost, she still…still cared. But I just wanted to give back, you know. Helping your friends is a two-way street, she can’t let me talk all about my problems and not expect me to listen to her,” Matt explained, hoping he was getting his fears across to Mason in the right way. Mason nodded along, before a question popped into his head. “Look, this kind of stuff, it isn’t my area of expertise but I did learn some stuff about mental health when I was studying. Maybe it’s possible that she could have repressed what was actually going on with her.” Matt looked at him in confusion, causing Mason to add, “I mean, when she told you that her problems weren’t important… what if she actually believed it?” Matt looked at him and shook his head, still in confusion. “I mean, Evie’s smart, she’d know that what she went through is important. Why would she think anything else?”. Matt knew how much Oscar and Hannah meant to Evie, she couldn’t pretend otherwise even if she wanted to. Josh, though… that stuff was still complicated, which itself felt like an understatement. He didn’t like the idea of Evie being broken by what Josh did, but Matt didn’t like the idea of her still being stuck on him just as much. Of course, he knew he could be wrong about that idea, but that thought remained in his head, that Evie was still thinking about him, that Josh still, even when he was God-knows-where, he had control over her life, and that thought just soured everything. Especially when immediately after Josh was arrested, Evie had secretly blamed herself for not seeing what Josh did. Even though, as far as Matt knew, she had realised she was just as blameless as the rest of them. And it was as if Mason read his mind with his next words. “I don’t know, but maybe with… you know, this guy Josh… maybe she still blame herself for not seeing what he did, and that would just cloud everything else? Then maybe that guilt convinces her to… I don’t know be alone.” This was all just speculation, but Mason felt it was still a good guess. Besides, it was what he felt after Lana had betrayed him and his family. He had spent nights wondering how wrong he was about her, even though deep down he knew there were no warning signs. And it wasn’t just a bad relationship problem, it was a mistake that could have gotten himself and all his family killed. It was easy for that guilt to sink in, and maybe it was the same for Evie. Matt considered that and sighed. “If you’re right, if that’s what she thinks… damnit, it would make sense. She knows how I feel about the whole thing, but… it wasn’t her fault. Josh… he was a better liar than any of us believed that he was capable of. There was nothing she could do. I just wish she’d know he doesn’t deserve a moment of her time.” “Maybe she knows that, deep down. I mean, they were together for a long time, maybe she doesn’t know how she should feel about him, I don’t know… and you don’t know for certain that’s what she’s thinking either,” Mason pointed out. “Maybe she’s afraid of something and with everyone keep trying to get her to open up and making suggestions… that won’t help her.” Matt knew Mason had a good point. Evie and Josh had been engaged, he knew that would affect her, but this was not the way he had ever expected or prepared for. However, the idea that he was wrong about her thoughts about Josh didn’t do much to sooth him. Because that didn’t change whatever she was going through. And what he said to her… he was angry, and it didn’t change that her keeping him out of helping her wasn’t fair on him, but were his warnings about Josh even necessary to say? Were they too much and somehow made things worse? “Even if we did persuade her that she shouldn’t blame herself, it won’t solve anything else. I mean, even if we were able to convince her…it still comes down to Oscar and Hannah.” Matt shook his head and looked at Mason earnestly. “She was heartbroken, and even though time passed… I may not be the smartest, but I know that stuff doesn’t go away, if it ever does.” His thoughts had briefly went to the memory of his long-lost sister Elly, and he knew even though it had been too long since he’d even seen her, if anything happened to her, he would spiral out of control, not caring where he landed. And though Evie may initially have had a better control over her emotions, she would be thinking the same. “And on top of that… I mean, what if that was what was driving all of this? Some belief that… Mason leaned closer to Matt expectedly, waiting to hear what he had to say. “That?” Matt shook his head and answered slowly, reluctantly. Because he didn’t want this to be true, but if it was, then a lot of what Evie had said to him suddenly makes more sense in his head “That she doesn’t deserve our friendship, or our help and it only make things worse for her? It’s… it’s all such a mess.” Mason nodded, unhelpfully. “Yeah, it is. But you’re all in this mess, so it can’t be all that bad.” ----- Evie never thought she would come here. She really didn’t want to, but a part of her was convinced she should make this journey. The thought occurred to her because of Nadia had suggested during their last meeting, how what happened may had affected her in ways she didn’t know how. And she thought about how frightened she was when around other people, even before she had started cutting herself. And somehow, even though she felt stupid for thinking so, even though there were other factors involved, she felt part of that reason came back to him. Hunter. She remembered the fights they had after Josh was arrested, but maybe fight wasn’t the right word- it was more of Hunter screaming at her, his red, angry face almost ready to rip her to pieces, and her trying to calm him down. Those days, Zac and Leah were fighting a battle to simultaneously persuade her not to blame herself for what happened to Josh, and to keep peace in the house, and while Evie had trouble believing what they were telling her (because I wanted to believe them), she didn’t want to make things harder than it was. But Hunter wouldn’t listen to reason. She guessed that with Charlotte as a mother, Hunter’s anger wasn’t to be unexpected, but this was totally different. Even after he stabbed Andy, Evie had never considered if that could have happened to her (Hunter was certainly angry enough at her to have possible consider it). There wasn’t time, because it was then they all found out the truth about Denny, which overshadowed any other thoughts. Evie never visited him before his trial, because what was there to say, but now she realised why she should have: because she needed to know what his intentions were, especially when it came to Zac, and to make sure he wouldn’t go near him or anyone else to hurt them again. She didn’t know how long she had left, until she decided enough was enough- she would get those moments when she felt like suicide was the best action, and though they would past and she ended up doing nothing, she knew they would keep coming until she would end up doing so, but while she was left, she would try to make sure Hunter knew to stay away from Zac. She just hated that it took her this long to even consider it, and she hit the wheel of her car in frustration because she could have got a handle on this sooner, she could have gotten Zac to see reason sooner, persuaded Hunter to change his mind… She was escorted through the prison gates, checked to ensure she had nothing to sneak to the prisoner, and now she was sitting on a chair in front of a table, surrounded by other tables where other prisoners were meeting visitors. While she was waiting, she wondered if she stayed with Josh and if he didn’t run, if she’d be doing this for him? If he was ever caught, would she see him? She was pretty sure she said all that was needed to be said the last time they ever saw each other, but like anything else, she wasn’t so sure anymore. Finally, Hunter was escorted into the room by a guard. Evie watched the elation on his face disappear quickly as soon as he laid eyes on her. It was clear that she wasn’t the visitor he was hoping for. Well, if Evie owned the world’s smallest violin, she’d play it for him. He sat down in front of her, and as he did, Evie felt the hairs on the back of her neck curve and stood on end. It was because she knew what he did, that he was capable of trying to kill Andy, that he caused Marilyn’s injury, she told herself, that was all. They stood in silence for who knows how long before Hunter asked warily. “So, what do you think?” Evie’s eyebrows raised suspiciously. “About what particularly?”, she asked, her tone carefully constructed as to not give anything away. Hunter nodded, his gaze never leaving her face in a disconcerting manner, though his eyes portrayed a battle of resentfulness and apprehension. “You tell me. Did you come to gloat?” For the first time, Evie was feeling rankled at his words, at how carefree they sounded, as if he was innocent, as if nothing had changed. She remembered how heart-broken and confused Zac was when Hunter was first arrested, and though both she and Leah tried to help him, encourage Zac that it wasn’t his fault for what Hunter did, Evie could tell that hurt remained. Looking at him now, she wondered how successful she would have been to persuade him to leave Zac alone even if she tried before. “Gloat,” she stated flatly, as if it was the most ridiculous thing she had ever heard. “Gloat about what, exactly?” “What do you think?” Hunter asked coldly. He remembered what Zac tried to tell her about Evie. Back then he had initially agreed with Zac, realising how much Zac’s words made sense, and how he had no one else to blame for himself for his current circumstances. Yet, as Hunter soon realised, that didn’t mean that any anger at her disappeared. It seemed so easy to agree with Zac at the time, but afterwards… after getting use to the harsh reality of prison, no matter how much he tried, the bitterness of his situation kicked in with a vengeance. To the point that he couldn’t find himself to care about keeping that anger in Besides, even if he knows that she had nothing to do with Josh's actions, Evie still seemed to him like a very easy person to be angry at (otherwise he had to admit the idea that he had wronged her), and he was in jail anyway, so why not? “I’m here, barely get any visitors, and now you have Zac all to yourself. Seems like you got what you wanted.” Now, her own sight was in danger of going incredibly red. Evie suddenly felt a strong, unrelenting urge to deck him. “Got what I wanted? Is that so?” Evie repeated in amazement. Is that what he really thinks? He had no idea of what she wanted- well to be fair, neither did she, but she knew at least if she had ‘got what she wanted’, then Oscar and Hannah and Denny would still be alive. “Okay, let me explain something to you, because clearly you don’t have a clue,” Evie told him, the disdain in her voice was grating. “Zac is not mine. He’s not yours. It’s not his job to make anyone feel better unless he wants to. He’s his own person, a decent person who has been through enough because of both you and me. I may be a lot of things, but I am not happy that you hurt him.” At least, in a slim, bitter form of satisfaction, she saw Hunter’s smug demeanour deflated at that. He sighed and turned away, scratching at a small beard that was growing under his chin, suddenly looking for any excuse not to look at her. “You knew what your mother did to him, what she did to all of us. Denny was Zac’s niece, she was finally about to have a new start in life, and you knew why she never got it and did nothing. Marilyn felt she had to leave because she didn’t know who John was anymore, and you did nothing. Zac was so angry, and so ashamed, of what Charlotte did, because of all the while, you stood by him pretending that you cared.” “I did care!” Hunter insisted urgently, his voice pleading and his eyes suddenly swimming with shame that seemed to contradict his tone. Evie felt her teeth clench at the sight and immediately felt like backing away, but then she decided she didn’t care. She couldn’t let this change what she had to say. If he felt ashamed, then that was fine. It’s easy for him to cry now that he was just in the beginning of a lengthy prison sentence. Hunter felt as though he was having trouble getting his answer straight, because he did care for Zac. He felt enough shame after realising how much he let him down, and even though part of him could get why it was being questioned, he didn’t want his love to Zac to be questioned. “Not enough to tell him about Denny, apparently. Not enough to admit you stole from the diner to hurt Leah. Not enough to tell him Charlotte’s involvement. You cared more about covering what you did so you could keep Zac, and letting him believe he could trust you. You might as well have spat in his face.” She practically spate the words at him, even though it didn’t make her feel better (frankly, knowing what she did, she almost expected she wouldn’t), but it didn’t surprise her. She knew that when she can be, she could really vindictive. Hunter’s body was shaking in anger at this point, his fists clenching by his sides on the table, his eyes glaring and filled with anger, anger she guessed was because he didn’t want to hear it from her. Evie still didn’t care. He could reach out and start beating her and she wouldn’t care. He couldn’t do anything worse to her than she did to anyone else, including herself. “I said I was sorry to him, I never meant for him to be hurt, I just didn’t know what to do,” he hissed at her. “You don’t know what it was like… seeing him there with all of you when I never had that chance with my father, I just wanted that, I never thought it would end like this.” “You’re sorry now, yeah, now that you’re stuck in here. What did you think was going to happen. Did you think that you could keep it all hidden, and Zac would be okay with it?” Evie felt an extreme uneasiness when she said it, because while it was true to Hunter, it didn’t make it any less true about her. Still, she had no time for his excuses. “You had a hard life growing up, I know that, but Zac gave you a chance of a better life, you had the chance that so many other people would beg to get, and you still chose to do all that and used what Zac gave you to hide it. There is no one else to blame, certainly not Zac.” Hunter felt his anger rising, because he didn’t want to think about how right she was. He’s refused any attempts of help from the prison for councillors or anything like that, but he was forced to take part in sessions where they all talked about what they did, and if they realised how their actions affected their victims. And it was only there did Hunter ever considered Denny as a person who lost her life because of his own actions. He knew what she meant to Zac of course and he was sad for his father, but he never felt much… sorrow for what happened to her. He didn’t know her, just (as the detectives put it, he realised with horror), another person that filled him with envy at how close she was to Zac. He never wanted her hurt in any way, but… but that didn’t explain why he didn’t think much of her at all. He had attempted to rationalise it because there was nothing he could do for her, he just wanted to move on from it. It was only in prison that he was forced to consider her, and he didn’t like it. Which led to him blurting out without thinking, “So I’ve got to hear this from you? Your own boyfriend kills my mother, framed my father, and you’re going to lecture me about doing the right thing?” And then Evie gave him the last reaction Hunter expected of her. She gave him an extremely bitter, forced smile and shook her head with a cold and heavy chuckle. “Well, you may be surprised about it but I agree. I could have found out the truth about Josh, but I didn’t. Because I was still feeling guilty about what I let happened to him, because I’m a terrible judge of character, because I wanted to be happy, and for that happiness to stay for a while, one of those reasons, a different reason- I still didn’t see it. And even with Zac trying to persuade me otherwise, that is my fault. I was ignorant, I was completely blind to what was in front of me- which considering how Josh got away with it was so far, was pretty ironic.” Evie had to take a breath after speaking for so long, and when she was finished, she could see Hunter’s reaction had completely changed. His fists had unclenched, his eyes had widened, and his face had morphed to one of righteous anger to shocked bewilderment. Clearly, he never expected her to admit it straight out. To be honest, she was surprised at how frank she was being. When it came to everyone else, she kept on struggling explaining it to them, even if she came up with excuses such as trying not to affect them with her anger. How everytime she opened her eyes in the morning it was as if the light was burning a wave of disgust and hate at her, how her stomach churns at what she had let people like Hunter and Tank do to the people she cared about and could do nothing. It was true, but she didn’t trust herself not to do it for those reasons. “Yeah, I realise it. I owe them better than trying to pretend otherwise so I don’t feel worse than I already do. We’re dangerous Hunter. We made decisions, mistakes, flat-out stupid or criminal decisions and other people suffer for it because we just didn’t care. We didn’t think. That’s why I left the house, because I’m tired of letting my family suffer because of my own decisions or having to look at the aftermath day after day.” Hunter was left speechless at this little speech, trying to figure out what was a criticism at him and what was at her. Her frank self-loathing and anger was… honestly unnerving, he had never seen it before apart from… Olivia in her extremely dark days. He had never known the full story of what she went through, only Irene knew, and he didn’t have time to figure it out, but he wished he knew when he had that chance. Olivia had visited him a couple of times in prison, and she was scared half to death those times, he urged her to not visit for a couple of months. He knew it could be the last time he ever saw her, but he hated how uncomfortable she was, (even more so at the idea that she was finally uncomfortable because of him), and he couldn’t make her go through that. “Why are you telling me any of this?” Evie shrugged. She didn’t know why she said all of that to Hunter, let alone why it was so easy to say it in front of him rather than Zac. “I don’t know,” she said, her voice shrinking to close to a whisper. “Maybe it’s because I’m realising that for all that I hate what you did, I could be more like you than I thought. And believe me…”, and she leaned in so Hunter could hear her plainly, “…when I say that just terrifies me. But why I came here today? Because I want to know what your intentions are for Zac.” Hunter looked down at the table, for the first time unsure of how he could answer. He remembered looking at Zac’s face, remembering how ashamed he felt, at how he had hid the truth from him. After a few minutes, he answered hesitantly. “I don’t have any… ‘intentions’.” Evie just stared at him, “I don’t believe you. I don’t trust you not to hurt Zac again. For all I know, you’re trying to sneak back into his life. Zac’s too good a person, and I know he still cares about you, so he can’t see clearly what you’re doing. But I can.” “You don’t know me,” Hunter replied acidly. “You don’t know that’s what I’m trying to do.” “Am I’m supposed to believe that?” Evie pointed out snarky. “After you lied to everyone, we’re just to believe, what, that you’ve suddenly turned a new leaf? What if you’re wrong, what if you get someone else seriously hurt next time?” Part of her believed that Zac knew this, was aware of the risks when it came to Hunter. But she also knew that he felt as though he was still responsible for Hunter’s welfare, and that didn’t sit right. And there was more than that… part of her wanted to ask about Denny, about what she deserved, but she never did. She knew that it would have hurt Zac, just as much as it hurt her- she shouldn’t think about that, she can’t think about that- but it still should have been said, for Denny. As long as Hunter bore responsibility for what happened to her, Evie didn’t know how Zac could even begin to consider giving him a third chance. “He wants to give me another chance,” Hunter rallied back. Zac said something similar, and as much as he had got what Zac was trying to say, he still hoped for salvaging his relationship. If it meant playing nice with Evie and Leah and the rest of them, he would do so. “He does want to,” Evie admitted ruefully. “But that doesn’t mean he’s forgotten. He gave you a second chance before. We all did, and you wasted it. At least I know I don’t deserve a second chance when I’ll just end up hurting them again. Besides,” she added, thinking back to Tank. “We’ve given second chances before, I guessed I learned better.” Hunter could say- wanted to say- that things were different now, everything he did was in the open, he changed, he wants to do better, - but he didn’t know if it would be enough to persuade anyone. Hell, after everything, he wasn't sure if it was enough to persuade Zac. “So what are you going to do about it? Persuade Zac never to see me again?” “Honestly, if I could, that’s exactly what I would do. You’ve caused nothing but trouble for him, and for Leah. Leah, who has had so many reasons to have nothing to do with you, but she accepted you. But for some strange reason Zac believes there’s still a chance that he can help you, that he can change you. That’s what makes him much better than you or me, but to me… well, hypocritical of me, I think he’s wasting his time. Maybe he can actually do it, maybe he wants to, despite everything you did or didn’t do, but I don’t think it changes anything. So if you care about Zac, you'd tell him to leave you alone. You won’t cause him anymore trouble, you'd stay away from him. Don’t expect or demand anything from him, you… you let him heal and get on with his life.” Hunter glared at Evie with eyes that were filled with anger, anger she guessed was because he didn’t want to hear it from her. And her own unease only increased during this conversation, because she did not really knew Zac’s own thoughts about it, and she didn’t want to go behind his back making decisions for him. If anything, Zac would be making better decisions than she ever would but she felt she should still be watching his back. “So what, you’re going to be there to enforce this if I don’t?” Hunter asked back in a tone of defiance so thin anyone who wasn’t listening hard enough wouldn’t believe it was there. “You’d want to take this more seriously. If you truly want to make up for Zac, you’d stop acting as though the entire world’s set up to get you. It just happened, and you have to live with it. But to answer you, probably not. I’m more likely to put Zac in more trouble. He’s got better people in his corner. Besides,” Evie said, almost feeling frightened at how casual, how flat her voice sounded, because the words were anything but: “I’m doubting I’ll still be alive for that long.” ------- She had wrapped the wet towel around her arm, subsiding the burning under her skin a bit. Evie bit the inside of her cheek to stop herself from wincing at the feeling of the rough cloth scraping against her raw skin. She had done this before, too many times, whenever she had cut deep enough for the bleeding to start, and she stopped it. Looking down at the towel now, covering the cuts she knew were a mixture of faded pink and sparkling red, she hated her for giving into this moment of weakness, the idea of taking care of herself. Her brain however, more than made up for it whenever the pain came to her senses. You deserve this, think of them. Think of what you did to them. Worthless, stupid, ungrateful, bad… Evie couldn’t help but wonder if she was even more unimaginative that those thoughts are always the same, but she was reminding herself of those thoughts anyway, because she knows she can’t let herself to forget. Maybe that was the reasoning why she started cutting, because back when she started… Evie hadn’t changed, physically at least. Mentally, her mind has turned into a conundrum of dark thoughts and guilt and it felt wrong that her body had gotten through so much unscathed when better people didn’t. There were noises coming out of the other caravans, people shouting and drinking at one another. Honestly a bit too loud but she didn’t mind- well, she wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for how all the noise seemed to add up and combine into one never-ending noise, but the tone of it, the high-pitch of that noise, always gave the sense that it would come to an end any second, ending in large, unavoidable crash… She didn’t know if she accomplished anything by going to visit Hunter today. She didn’t know if he listened to her, let alone properly consider what she was trying to tell him. Besides, she didn’t exactly have much ground to lecture anyone, not after what she did. Not when she can’t even admit the truth to Zac or anyone else, not the full truth at least. And if someone can’t tell the full truth, to be completely honest with the people they love, then what hope was there. A big part of her had hoped that Zac had already knew or at least believed what she did, how she was responsible for what happened to Oscar and Hannah. At least then she would have that confirmation, so she knew that staying away was the right course, and to silence the fear that all this time she had been tricking him, just like Hunter had, just like Josh had, tricking everyone to believe she was somewhat worth it, that she deserved to be a part of their lives. That idea… it was a horrifying thought, a viciously brutal thought, that by not being truthful, they truly believed she could be a part of their lives when she shouldn’t, and she tried to fix it, she tried to be honest… but she knew deep down, that trying wasn’t enough, trying doesn’t solve anything. And as usual, her thoughts went flying back to Oscar, how he would never trick them like this. He was always that rare kind of person who’s honesty was clear, never holding anything back, but in a refreshing, nice way. He always told people what he thought of them, but never in a way that made the person feel bad- unless you really screwed up. He would never screw things up this badly- she knew this already, but even now it confirmed it more that it should have been him still alive, not her. Evie would have given her life willingly if it meant that Oscar would still be alive, and she would be happy. She had always hated the idea of being away from him, no matter how long, but she’d take it, as long as he would be okay. Funnily enough, Evie remembered thinking those same thoughts when she left three years ago to rejoin her father back at that cult. Back then, though, Evie held onto the faith that she would return to Oscar, with her father returned to normal and right beside her again. So they could be a family again. More fool her. Besides, she could have been a better sister to him. All their arguments, all the bitter fights she had with Hannah, the way she treated Denny the first time Evie had ever found out about her- all of it seemed so pointless and stupid that it just overshadowed and blocked everything else. So much time with them all that she just wasted. She didn’t know whether or not which was more unforgivable. She was back in her caravan right now, and she guessed she was preparing herself for another day of her painful, wasted existence. Thinking back to her earlier conversation with Phoebe, Evie hadn’t told Zac about her pains. Because she know what Zac would do. He’d offer help, and she wouldn’t be able to trust herself to admit even more once the ball started rolling. At least that was one way that she thought about it. The other possible outcome was that he would have enough of her whining and send her on her way. Which is what he should do, but that left an extremely bitter taste in her mouth, because it would be equal to letting him down, and there was that small part of her, that seemed to be fighting, even in its small size, a battle against the larger part of her, that wanted to do this right for him, at least. Because with whatever time she had left before she realised she could no longer keep this up, she wanted that time to matter- But remember? If you can’t hold onto the big things, how can you expect to hold onto the little things? Your own words. Why do you putting your own sense of importance in front of being honest with him, you- A knock on the door startled her from her thoughts, dropping the towel onto the ground. She quickly pulled her sleeve over her arm, and hesitated at the idea of opening it, because she didn’t know what anyone would want from her, at least at this time. She was already thinking about her usual tactic; if she pretended she wasn’t home, they would give up and go away- “Evie, it’s Matt? You in there?” Evie felt something in her drop once she heard Matt’s voice. She hadn’t heard from him in so long, and… VJ’s words hit back to her about how he was feeling, his own fears, and even though she couldn’t feel surprised at how she let him feel that… the guilt had set in not long after. She had felt that guilt before, but it only multiplied after that. She should have realised this would have happened. Matt could pull on an attitude of confidence and carefree, but those who knew him best would know sometimes how he could be plagued with feelings of self-doubt, even when he tried to put on a brave face about it, or when things got really rough, hid it behind snide remarks. After the way his own father treated him, it wouldn’t be a surprise, and after Maddy left, it must have come back to him in a vengeance. The thing is, Evie knew this before, she had often tried to help Matt and show him how much of a great person he truly was, but she had forgotten about it, otherwise she would never have treated him like that, she should have never treated him like that ever- Before she was even aware of what her body was doing, she had already moved towards the door and opened the lock. And there Matt was at the bottom of the steps. Evie stepped down to talk to him, all the while her inner critic gloating at her decision, her weakness. What the hell do you think you’re doing, you’re gonna get him killed too! “Hey,” Matt greeted. Both of his hands were in his pockets and he was rocking back and forward, as if waiting for her to make the next move. “Hey,” Evie replied back, her voice sounding just as lame as his did. Her body felt stiff as she struggled to keep herself from swaying. Looking at Matt now made her feel conflicting things- fear of what would happen, discomfort at the tired look of uncertainty on his face, and the selfish feeling of joy of seeing him again, though somewhat diminished when she saw how tired he looked. He was one of her best friends, the last best friend she had, and the way she treated him was terrible. The way she passed out on times to hang out (even though it would keep Matt safe), the way she lashed out at him. The two of them stood there in the dark, and at the same time, without the other knowing it, both had the same thought: how did things get this awkward between them? Evie felt so many things on the tip of her tongue, ranging from how have you’ve been- to- I’m so sorry I’ve been a terrible friend, but none of that seemed enough. But looking at Matt’s face now, she owed him a explanation. “I… I treated you badly, but that wasn’t because of anything you did. You were just trying to help, but all I seemed capable of doing was screwing up all the times we hanged out. I… I could have been more honest with you, explained why things… they couldn’t be like they were, but I wasn’t. That doesn’t change that it wasn’t your fault. I don’t want whatever has happened or going to happen to change that, or make you feel bad. You’re a good man, who always try.” Matt listened to her, and felt his heart sinking deeper than he thought possible at what she was saying. Yes, he didn’t approve of how she handled it, but the way she made it out, anyone who didn’t have a clue of what was going on would think she had called him every bad name in the book and then some. After he and Mason had talked, Matt had a better (though even frightening) idea of how Evie’s brain was thinking, but what he didn’t get was why Evie had suddenly gained the habit of thinking what she did was worse than it actually was. He remembered how she had tried to help him before, it was more than what she believed it to be. He wanted to tell her that it wasn’t like that, to try to reassure her, but after a lengthy talk with Mason, he considered approaching this a different way. A way he had no idea of whether or not it would work, but he ended up trying anyway. “Why do you think that? Why do you suddenly think you messed things up?” Evie didn’t take her gaze of him, her face narrowing with uncertainty. What was she expected to say at that? Surely Matt knew what she did, did he want her to say it all over again? “Well…I mean, didn’t I? You have been so patient with me, and I just threw it back in your face. If I can’… I can’t decide what I should have done, whether I could have…. do things as fine as they were, because after everything, you deserve good things,” Evie explained, silently cursing at how much she was struggling at her words, her breath hastening as she kept talking. “Or if I should have been more honest with you, because I can’t be tricking you into thinking it’s all fine. If I can’t decide what’s the right thing to do, what… what does that say?” “Evie, I don’t care about any of that. You don’t need to be some picture of perfection. I’m… all those times we spent together, I’m just happy to see… just you,” Matt said, keeping his voice as plain and as honest as he could, just so he could begin to give the encouragement that Evie must need to escape this prison of misery she was in. Why didn’t he see how big this whole thing was before? Evie sighed and turned her head away to focus on the wall. She didn’t want to sound rude or anything, but she couldn’t just accept it. She didn’t get why Matt would want to, why he was so insistent on saving something that couldn’t be saved. “Why?” she asked bluntly, keeping as much of the disbelief out of her voice as much as she could. “Because, you matter to me” Matt replied, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world despite feeling hurt at the idea that she had to ask why. “You’re my friend, and… and you are clearly going through something and it makes sense, you’ve been through enough pain, and… I don’t know,” Matt was struggled with his own words, because he doesn’t want to make assumptions about what she was going through. “And you deserve help to get through it.” Evie knew he was trying, for some reason he felt he wanted to, but it didn’t make things any better. He shouldn’t want to help her, he should be angry at her, for not telling him the truth, for putting him in danger just by being near him. “No I don’t. I don’t deserve anything good, not your kindness, not your help… I lied to you… I couldn’t tell you the truth about what I’ve done and that was the last thing you needed. That’s not what a good person does. I had all of… this,” she gestured frantically at her head, “and I can’t… I can’t… tell what I was trying to do in the first place! I can’t know what I wanted to do when I kept the truth from you, I just don’t know!” Her breathing was getting heavier and deeper and she had to step down because she didn’t want to collapse again. All the time, she was aware of how Matt was watching her and instead of hate or anger or disgust or any of those emotions that he ought to be looking at her with, Evie could only see concern. “Look, I know you don’t have to tell me everything, and I know a lot of this is personal for you… I won’t force you to share every little secret, because God knows I have my own, but… if there is something wrong, I want to help. Anything you tell me will remain between us if you want it.” Evie just shook her head and stared up into the night above her. “It’s not anything you can fix, it’s nothing anyone could fix.” And with that, for the first time, Matt felt the first bit of frustration escape into his words. “Well, maybe Evie, you can’t chose that for me. Maybe that’s something I decide on my own,” he replied sternly. As much as he wanted to help her, she can’t make those decisions for him. Well, go on, Evie, tell him what’s wrong. Tell him so he’d finally get it. “Me, Matt, I’m what’s wrong,” Evie muttered, her tone a mixture of bitterness and despair. “Evie-” “I mean, are you really surprised? You said it yourself, I couldn’t tell even now how much of a bad guy Josh was, and since I could have stopped him before, you may be more right than you know.” Matt closed his mouth after he realised it was gaping during that, because he was just shocked at how she saw it. That was never he meant, that wasn’t what he was trying to do. What was he even trying to do? Matt had the distant memory of thinking of trying to persuade Evie to forget about Josh, that thinking about him would only make her feel worse, but he couldn’t think about that now, he needed to explain again, properly this time. “Evie, that was never what I meant to say. I never blamed you for what Josh did. No one did!” “You know that’s not true, Matt, let’s not pretend otherwise,” Evie rebuked, still not looking at him. Suddenly a wave of exasperation hit Matt. “Yeah Hunter did, but since when did he become a reliable judge of character?”, he asked. “But the rest of us, the ones who weren’t looking for someone to blame just because we were angry, we knew you had nothing to do with it.” “But isn’t that the thing, isn’t it?” Evie muttered flatly, distractedly. “I did nothing to stop him when I had everything to do with it. I mean, who knows what was going through Josh’s head when he killed Charlotte. Something had to be there, and I didn’t see it, and everyone else suffered for it, Zac paid the price for that, Oscar and Hannah….” Suddenly her voice was caught in her throat and nothing came out but small, almost silent coughing noises and she struggled to keeping her face from contorting into a physical manifestation of the pain she was feeling. Why the hell couldn’t she finish that sentence, how was she never able to just admit the truth? If she could do it in front of Hunter of all people, she should be able to do it for Matt. Her hands clasped her knees and clutched them closely as if that would force the words out of her mouth. “No one else saw it. I don’t think even Andy saw it,” Matt answered, flinching when he saw Evie’s gaze darkened at the mention of Andy. Of course, he should have known that Andy would definitely remain Evie’s least favourite person even now, and with admittedly good reason. “I spend all that time with him and never suspected a thing. Do I get some of the blame then?” “No, but it’s different.” “Why?” Matt asked, only for Evie to irritably groan and look away. “Alright, you can give me the silent treatment if you want. Maybe you're scared about what to say, but that doesn't mean you need to keep it in all the time.” Matt remarked, his tone more confrontational than he intended. “I had more opportunity to know what was wrong and did nothing. How- how could you not blame me?” she asked frantically, looking up at him. “After what he did affected all of you, and I… and I… I lied to you about what was going on with me, I pretended it was all fine, that I could continue on as though it wasn’t hanging over my head all the time, how can you not be angry at me?” “Do you want me to be angry at you, Evie? Is that what this is?” Matt demanded. “Yeah, okay, it hurt that you felt like you couldn’t talk to me, that you didn’t trust me not to tell me about your problems. And it scares me that its only now I’m suddenly realising the full extent of what’s going on. But what do you want me to do? Scream at you over and over again? What will that solve? You did more good than just that, and I wish you could see that. What does it solve you beating yourself over and over again-” “What did you mean then?” Evie asked suddenly. She doesn’t know why she asked that, she didn’t know what difference would it make, all she knew was that the moment she heard the words “beating yourself”, she needed him to stop because… he couldn’t have known, there was no way he would know that’s what she had done, what if he did know, how would he feel- “What?” “If you weren’t talking about blaming me then what were you talking about? What made you so angry about Josh and me?” “What… what I…” Matt groaned frustratingly and embarrassed as he struggled to explain. The main thing he was angry with was the idea that she still had feelings about Josh. And even though it was none of his business, it didn’t change how much that idea rankled him, after how he treated her. But when he thought about it now, with the idea that she had suppressed certain things, as well as the fact that she was smarter than that, made him wonder if it was even worth considering. Dammit, this was going to be so hard to explain. “I just… I just hated the idea that you would feel sorry for him, or think you owed him anything. And when… you pushed yourself away, I… I didn’t know what to think and I just jumped to the worst-case scenario. Like, yeah Charlotte was some lunatic, but how he covered it all up, how he left you to deal with all of this on your own… it didn’t feel right. I don’t know… I just made this assumption because sometimes I get clueless with emotions, and I couldn’t get why you wouldn’t want to take about it. I didn’t say anything about it before because I know it was still painful for you, but when time passed… I guessed I expected some form of a reaction. When it didn’t happen I just got worried. I guessed I saw it as a shut and close case, but it wasn’t as easy as that. But I never wanted you to think that somehow you were responsible.” Evie stood up then and faced him, and the hard look in her eye was not something Matt wanted to see again. She knew he didn’t meant harm, but part of her also knew how impulsive he could be at times, especially when it came to all the emotional stuff. That didn’t change anything she felt though. “I know what Josh did was wrong, don’t think I had ever forgotten that. He and Andy deserved to pay for what they done, not run off into the sunset together for some grand old adventure,” she scoffed- a hoarse croaking sound that was worse because Matt could hear some actual amusement there. “I know that,” Matt said, a bit of shame entering his voice because how could he think that she could ever forget how Josh’s actions affected the rest of her family and friends. Just because she didn’t want to talk about it, didn’t mean it was there. “Evie, I may not know everything that’s going on, but I'm sorry, I shouldn't have given you the wrong impression-” No, Matt no,” Evie shook her head frantically. How stupid and pitiful she must have been, she was the one who ought to be apologising to him, not the other way around. “You couldn’t know I didn’t tell you everything, and even though you’re right about Josh, that doesn’t mean I’m suddenly blameless. Maybe…he wasn’t the same after what Tank did to him, after what I let happen, I could have stopped him, make him see reason. It doesn’t excuse what he did afterwards, and he still couldn’t take responsibility for it… Zac got hurt, you got hurt, yet here I still am. Why does that suddenly make everything okay for me?” “Why do you think that? Why do you think he hasn’t hurt you?” Matt felt as if time had completely slowed down, completely stricken at what was going on in front of him. He needed to take this one thing at a time and that seemed like a good piece to start. Her words were all so harsh and full of anger that he had never experienced before and it really scared him. What he had took for her trying to justify him may be just her not thinking what happened to her was important. It was so much worse than he thought. “Matt… I… obviously… it doesn’t matter, it shouldn’t…not after what I did, it doesn’t even come close to equal what he did to you or Zac or…because I should be able to take responsibility for this, it should be easier than it is. People... people should be able to take responsibility, they need to care about what damage they cause, the people who get hurt because of it...” Matt watched her ramble on with growing despair, half because there was no hesitation in her eyes when she said it, meaning she actually believed it, half because he couldn’t believe he didn’t put the dots together until right now. Seeing her like this, Matt knew he couldn’t remain angry, if he could call it being angry, anymore. She may be holding stuff back, but what she was giving was enough for him to know this was a lot to deal with. “Evie…he hurt you to an incredible amount, I…what he did, it wasn’t you,” he started, but found there was more nothing he could say. Well, he could ask if she ever considered it, but he didn’t want to play it off as if she was stupid for not considering it, if she had repressed it, and kept quiet. He didn't want her to think any more bad of herself. Before he realised he took too long to answer, Evie was speaking again. Matt forced himself to look at her again and found his breath catching in his throat when he saw how her eyes were so pained and melancholic and full of self-hatred. “It might as well have been me. And I shouldn’t try to convince myself of anything other…Goodnight.” and was already heading back to her caravan when Matt finally found something to say, something important. “I was never pretending.” Evie was halted right in her tracks and turned around, her eyes in a dull haze. “What?” “Before, you told me that I didn’t need to pretend. You may not trust me, but I never pretended about wanting to hang out with you, or trying to make you feel better.” “Matt, it’s… it’s not about trust. I do trust you, it’s just…I know you were just trying to make me feel better, but you didn’t have to.” “Evie, I have never done anything I didn’t want to do, or say anything for the sake of saying it. I may not be the best with emotions, but I’ve always been like that. And you’re feeling guilty, but that doesn’t answer why things changed between us.” Except he could see how things changed, how with everything affecting Evie. Nothing was the same anymore, whether he wanted to or not. “Listen, if you needed space for yourself, I understand that-” “That wasn’t it,” Evie said. Maybe it had been before, and maybe she had said so before, but it didn’t feel like it now, it hadn’t for a while then. Then what the hell is it then, Matt wanted to cry out in frustration, before choosing a restrained “What happened?” “I couldn’t just keep things the way they were, Matt, it wasn’t fair on you, not when I had all this… whatever it is. I had to stay away, I didn’t want to hurt you.” “How? How were you going to hurt me? You don’t… you don’t need to be okay all the time, you telling me your problems isn’t going to hurt anyone-” “Yes it will! Matt, I’m supposed to… I wanted to be the person you can rely on to help, the one everyone will rely on. I wanted to do that, but… but if I am responsible for all of that has happened, I was just trying to make everyone feel better about me, I was making it about me and that isn’t fair on you or anyone else. Just by letting myself think I deserved your friendship was putting you at risk, because… it’s happened before, hasn’t it? Me putting myself first leads to other people getting hurt.” Matt felt the big feeling of hurt inside him growing more and more. Was she really regretting all their time together, all the times they went swimming or shared a drink from the surf club, He believed she was actually enjoying herself, enjoying his company but he remembered how nervous she was, and how she didn’t make much suggestions, and if she was acting like this… But, however, before his emotions ran ahead of him, his brain persuaded him to look at this rationally, and held onto the idea that since she was wrong about her being blamed for Josh’s decisions, maybe she was wrong about this. He also remembered despite how tired she had look, the way her smile brightened when she saw him, and held onto that hope. “I don’t believe that,” Matt said resolutely. “I know you were trying to make things okay, just as much as you were enjoying yourself as well. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.” She's the only one who think that's important or anything. Evie stepped down and she couldn’t admit he was wrong. She did wanted to, but that wasn’t important, what right did she have to enjoy herself. “That doesn’t make it okay! I don’t deserve that right, I shouldn’t be making myself feel better, I could have… could have hurt you.” Her word were feeling like shards, and Matt would have reacted with ridicule and disbelief if Mason and he hadn’t already talked about it. He still couldn’t believe it, but things have gotten this badly for her to actually believe that, and he'd do anything to make her realise that she did deserve to feel better than she obviously did right now. He didn’t know if he was fully prepared to fix this, but he had to try. “You do deserve it, Evie… you one of the few people I can think of right now that deserve it more than anyone else. You wanted to make things right, that was all, I wasn’t going to get hurt, nothing bad was going to happen…” he assured her, though that felt clumsy to him because he hadn’t the faintest idea of how she thought he was going to get hurt. “Come on Matt,” Evie shook her head again, this time more slower and more resignedly. “After everything that happened this year, no one can promise that anything is going to happen. You can’t do that. How can anything be okay again.” Matt opened his mouth to argue but found out he couldn’t. Because even if he didn’t agree with her, she made sense there. He knew what Evie was referring to, that tragic day where no one expected anything to go wrong. And look what happened. God, who knew how long she had felt this, without hope. More than a dozen responses ran through his head, but he could get them into a coherent sentence. He had never seen her like this. He had seen her frustrated, angry, cocky, confident, kind, upset, sad- all the emotions apart from this complete state of defeat. And that was the thing; he knew things aren’t okay, and they may not be okay for who-knows for how long, but that didn’t change his intent. He wanted to help her. “Just leave Matt, you’d only get yourself hurt by getting involved and it’s not worth it. I… I made that mistake before, spilling all my problems onto people I care about, but I can stop making that same mistake. If I did…” she shrugged helplessly, as if to say, what else would there be to do? She had already turned back, but Matt felt compelled to talk again. “There’s…” he hesitated, feeling the news he had initially hoped to share so unimportant compared to the bombshell that was this conversation, but if it showed her that he wanted her to be included, then he would take it. “There’s a uni party this Saturday, Mason told me about it and both of us… we had hoped to convince you to tag along. Frankly, we still are, because you deserve a bit of normality. Now, look if you don’t feel comfortable going out to something like that, then okay, but we could try with just the three of us. You shouldn't have to be alone.” Evie felt her brain in a whirlwind, unable to make up her mind about what to do with this information. Matt was right, she probably didn’t feel like going to something as big as that, but even if it was just the three of them, it wouldn’t make her feel more comfortable. But what if this is what she needed to do, just to assure Matt, to make him feel better, before… before… Better cut him loose, before you see him dead… I’m not going anywhere… You all love and need one another... Can you think about anything other than yourself… Just don’t wait for them to give up themselves, because no one can wait forever. “Matt, you don’t understand-” Evie started, her eyes brightening a bit with alarm. Matt snorted. He couldn’t help but notice how much things have changed. Matt was usually the one to hide away his emotions and pull away if things got too emotionally difficult, Evie was the one who was always upfront about her emotions. “Maybe I don’t,” he replied. “But that doesn’t change what I remember. I was at my worst before and you were there for me. If you think I wouldn’t do the same… then maybe… maybe you don’t know me at all, Evie.” Next chapter's gonna be a big one so hold onto your hats folks.
  13. Yeah, I did think about ending the chapter with her just accepting the help right then and there, and understanding that it's perfectly normal for her to be experiencing all these after-affects, but given the headspace she's in right now that persuades her that the idea of accepting Nadia's help would be cowardly of her, especially when she's convinced that not only she deserves to be alone, but if she did accept it, things would eventually end up worse for the people she cared about. Thus, it wasn't the right time. I do believe that certain fear of her, that things would end badly eventually if she stayed around, would be a expected emotion she would be feeling and that would be dictating her actions, since so much was taken from her when she thought nothing bad would happen, so she can no longer ease herself into thinking that things will be okay or that she was safe to be around, which increases her guilt. Those inner thoughts are extremely damaging to a person's mental health, and don't get talked about enough, so I hope I portrayed them enough for you to understand them. And though VJ did his best with Evie, (he's has a much clearer view of what's going on than Zac is), Evie just can't find it in herself to just believe that they would genuinely want to help her anymore. I'm laying out all these hints out there before Evie finally gets it, but as Nadia says, while she should still lean on the people who love her, she has to find this out herself. At least that's what I've learned, anyway. Thanks again Red, next chapter coming up in the next few weeks.
  14. I cannot stress again how grateful I am for all of your patience and keeping up with this story. I started this story with the intent of trying to give Evie and her trauma, and where it may have lead her, justice, because I felt the show really did a disservice to her, and while writing this wasn't exactly as I thought it would be, or hoped it would be, I am still determined to write about how everything is affecting her and why she is making these decisions. The Subject matter of this story can be extremely taxing, mentally and emotionally, to write, and that on top of work and the state of the world in the moment, writing chapters have taken longer than expected. It's not easy to try and keep everyone in character, as well as keeping them as engaging characters, but I hope I did my best. And please remember, there's a lot more on the way, so I have no intention of abandoning this fic. Remember, how Evie sees her own mental health does not reflect my own views. Chapter 13 Evie wrapped her arms around herself in the dark, as if in a desperate attempt to keep herself from shaking or to keep herself warm, even as her limbs were shaking in sporadic movements and her throat was hoarse. That itself was stupid because she knew how warm it was, especially during the summer but that didn’t change anything, she felt unnaturally cold, like she had been thrown into a lake covered in ice and trapped there for eternity. Of course that wasn’t the first thing she was aware of as she shot out of what she knows to as her daily nightmare. God, she might just be the stupidest person alive, if she had forgotten that she moved out, that the sight of the small interior of the caravan had left her feeling startled. It has been like this for the past few days she lived here, it was always the same reaction. Her breath laboured a painful shudder as her eyes, stretching out to see in the dark, darted around as if she had expected to wake up back in her bedroom, unable to rid herself of the panic that felt like a leech travelling up her spine to her neck, making her squirm. She felt dirty, slimy, a complete mess. Waking up from that nightmare no longer provided her any comfort, because waking up wasn’t any better, but the panic was spreading to her head, filling her ears with loud alarm bells, drowning out everything except her heartbeat that she always thinks is seconds away from bursting from her chest. It wasn’t like it was at home, this panic, felt like her entire skull about to collapse into itself, every breath filled with more pain than before as she tried to take in as much lungful of breaths but she couldn’t feel the lungs entering her body. What wasn’t she getting, why was the caravan filling her with such panic than it ever was at home- She realised then it was because she wasn’t at home. Plagued with dreams that filled her with fear of something terrible happening to her family, she never acknowledged it but she felt the slightest bit of comfort knowing that Zac, Leah and the others were nearby and… still alive, a comfort that strengthened when she walked downstairs and saw them all. But she couldn’t do it now, not here. She couldn’t get that satisfaction of knowing they were alright. Anything could happen to them, and she wasn’t there- As if you could do anything. If you stayed there, the only thing that would be certain would be that they were hurt. Wasn’t Oscar enough for you to realise- “Shut up, shut up…” Evie muttered as she gripped her face in her hands, her nails digging into her forehead as if that would get herself to shut up or else she could rip it off. Then again, did she want it to? God, she was so full of herself if she thought she could look after them, they could look after themselves better than she ever could. Besides, shouldn’t she be reminded of what she was responsible for? The thought that made her question whether or not it was rational for her to think so, whether or not she could connect what happened to Oscar and Hannah to what she did to Josh… no longer seemed rational. Evie remembered another phrase for it: the Butterfly effect, how one small thing can start a chain of more serious events. That’s what she did, with her selfishness and arrogance. It was the only way how she could connect it with how many people she lost. It wasn’t natural, it had to be her fault. She couldn’t see it any other way, and to do so would only seem like a cowardly attempt to deflect responsibility. It was her responsibility, she started all of this, but it was even more painful was that it was her family, people who weren’t tainted like her, who paid the price, when it should have just been her. She should have been the one who died, no one else, if she had done something about it a long time ago, then maybe no one else would have suffered. At least everyone would be better off than they were now. She wanted to call them, she wanted to know they were alright, but she shouldn’t. She didn’t deserve that comfort of knowing. She remembered how she refused to answer any of their calls when they tried to call her during the past few days, when she was getting comfortable living in a caravan. She had never ignored their calls, always did her best to answer, until now. It would only be hypocritical of her to want to call them and expect anything else. She didn’t reply to any of the texts or attempted calls, not even the one about… No, it was better that she didn’t. No matter how much good of a cause it was, it would do them no good for her to put her hands in it, she’d ruin it. On her first night sleeping here, she felt oddly out of place. It took her a while to realise that now she was truly, physically alone. Evie didn’t realise how alone she felt until then. She felt so alone, so much that it made her chest twist… Good, she coldly reminded herself, forcing herself to supress the whimper trying to escape from the back of her throat. She deserved it. Evie laid back down, not getting rid of that leech that seemed to make her own skin prickle. She knew she wasn’t going back to sleep and that was going to make her tired in the day, but she didn’t care at this point. She probably should have, since she would have work later today, she had to control the tiredness in her as to not to snap at anyone, but she just didn’t care anymore about getting sleep. She had to be woken up like this, just to be reminded what a terrible person she was. At any rate she was getting used to it at this point, used to the lack of peace in her sleep and awakening. But even as she laid down on the bunk bed, she kept seeing that last image of her dream before she woke up in her head, seared into her memory to never leave her- that image of Oscar lying dead at her feet, motionless and bloody, while hot tears streamed down her face and her mouth opened in a silent but hoarse scream. ----- Zac knocked on the caravan door, hoping she’d open up. He tried doing it a couple of times before, but there was no answer. For all he knew, she had been there, just didn’t answer. She didn’t answer his calls, he rarely saw her outside the caravan park and she turned down offers to meet up at the house, even for dinner. He had tried and tried to reach out to her and the situation with Evie only turned worse. He won’t give up on her, she mattered too much to him for him to do that, but he was just angry that she had given up, and he didn’t know why- except he could though. He could think of a good reason why she would want to give up. This isn’t just the pain of a broken heart, it’s the pain of losing one of the closest connections she ever had, but that didn’t make it okay. It would have killed Oscar all over again to see her like this. It was just draining, seeing someone get worse day after day, trying to see that they loved her, that they were just trying to help and it all going unheard. And to see that she didn't want to get better, for whatever reason, seemed to make a lot of what she has said and done connect- but it made things worse. He couldn’t help that wave of frustration that she wasn’t willing to listen, to refuse any attempt of his to help her, while she could be stuck up in that caravan all day… maybe getting drunk. Leah shared her doubts that Evie was even drinking at all, but he doubted it. Why wouldn’t she just tell them that from the get-go? Why wouldn’t she say anything if that was the case the first time he asked her? Maybe he had expected Evie to try and hold onto her family more than ever before, even if she wanted to take care of all of this on her own, but being afraid of telling them the truth? Zac was eager to fix that if he had made a mistake, but he needed to know how. He just had to accept this was what Evie wanted to do right now until she could change her mind. He can’t be thinking about how to help her every moment, she can’t expect him to do that. She can’t be dwelling in this misery, and he didn’t get why she’d want to. Still, Zac still believed he could have tried harder. Something he could have done to have broken Evie out of this sooner. Yeah, she could have met him half-way, but still… he was missing something, something important. It made him feel powerless and he didn’t like it. She opened the door, a jeans and top hastily put on, she looked exhausted and it made Zac’s eyes strain to see, especially when the already dejected look on her face only deepened when she looked down to him, and then down to her feet. Her mouth opened up as if she was about to say good morning or something like that. Zac nodded uncertainly at her, not sure exactly where the two stood at this point. “You okay?”. He guessed, he should have expected the lack of an answer. “I just thought I should give you this. It’s your schedule for tomorrow.” He handed her what she was going to do when she was going back to work. She took it almost hesitantly, as if she didn’t expect to be working there. “Okay,” Evie replied flatly, but still not looking at Zac. That felt her with confusion, because after spending a morning with that worry of not knowing if he was alright, she was just grateful just to see him, but right now, she couldn’t look at him. She felt like she was standing in front of a firing squad under his gaze- wait, actually no, she’d have more dignity to raise her head to look at a firing squad. “I know it’s not what you’re doing before, but I just want to tell you no one’s expecting you to be at your best right now.” Zac offered, looking to see if he could find some glimpse of what she was feeling behind that blank look on her face. If she had looked at her schedule, she’d see that she’ll mainly be doing assistant roles rather than looking after the entire class. That made Zac even more upset, because he knew that she was more capable than that, but right now, he also knew that with all the emotional stuff she must be dealing with, it would be best to reduce some of her workload for this week at least. Once she got better (he ignored the voice in his head that suggested what if she never gets better?), she could get back to doing that kind of work again. “Soon we can get you back at the work you were doing before, but the staff had concerns and we just wanted to make sure that-” “I get it,” Evie said, her voice now tense. Her arms were killing her, and even though, in her moments of weakness, she had pressed a wet towel and used the necessary stuff to clean her arms to prevent the scars from infecting, they still affected her movements. “You guys don’t trust me, I don’t trust myself to do something as important as that. You don’t have to try and make me feel better. You can’t just play nice to everyone all the time, Zac.” Zac would tell her that wasn’t the case, but he doubted she’d listen to him. But it did make him worry that maybe she got that impression from members of the staff. Not all of them were exactly thrilled that he got his niece a job here. “Evie, is there anyone there who was making you feel uncomfortable-” “Nothing’s happened Zac, stop worrying about it.” Evie snapped, already regretting how rude she sounded before she realised it. She didn’t want him to be worried about him, and couldn’t believe how stubborn he was being about this. She still didn’t want to be rude or snap at him, but that was all she was doing, even if she tried not to. “I was just making sure,” Zac said gruffly. He hated this, that they couldn’t even have a single conversation that ended up with the pair of them almost at each other’s throats. “It’s not as if I want to be constantly worried about you. Just wanted to make sure you’re alright. It’s not as if you answered my calls to let me know.” “So you want me to lie, say I’m fine? I doubt it, even if you want to believe it.” she bitterly replied, wishing that the bitterness wasn’t there, but it was so there was no point in apologising, not when Zac should just leave her alone. She was half-way convinced that she should just tell him she was fine, just to appease him, but knew he would see right through it. “Okay, fine. You want to prove you can handle this all on yourself, then fine.” Zac said, shaking his head before walking away. He immediately regretted the harshness of the words and it wasn’t fine, but if she didn’t want to be around him anymore, then right now there was nothing he could do about it. Evie dared to raise her head to look at him. Her head was swimming and she couldn’t even think, let alone formulate a response other than that. She felt like burning up at the look in his eyes, which just seemed to radiate exhaustion and something she took as disappointment, and she felt sorry for making him look like that. It wasn’t as though she wanted to leave, but she couldn’t just say that. They didn’t force her out, it was her own choice and she shouldn’t make them feel guilty because of it. But the fact that she made Zac look that exhausted, when he shouldn’t, made her feel a stroke of anger rising in her, made her feel her fists clench in her pockets. She wished she could only feel that numbness, that overwhelming numb feeling that blocked everything out, but even when she did feel that, there was anger as well. Anger that she was treating Zac like that, anger that when Phoebe came around to the caravan park earlier last week to see how she was doing, Evie pretended she wasn’t there, anger at well… everything. Even as her entire vision felt like toppling, Evie felt confused at how Zac could even look at her, could even accept her into the school. She didn’t believe that he couldn’t blame her. If it took her this long to get it, Zac would have known it a while ago. Maybe he tried to push that fact aside to try and give her another chance. If that was the case, then it only made Evie worse because she didn’t try hard enough, but would it have made a difference? Evie doubted she could ever make up for what she did or do anything that wouldn’t feel like some pathetic attempt to console her. She tried but- But did she, really? Did she try to set it right, or had she already set herself up to fail? Was it easier to not try, to just give up when she knew there was no point, or easier just to keep moving, trying to kid herself that there was something she could do? It didn’t feel easy, taking one step after the other, but she didn’t know if she could trust that feeling. Everything that seemed rational, everything that made sense, was turned completely on its axis. He shouldn’t want to help her, she should be completely honest with him; to tell him what she did, as if he didn’t know, tell him that she was responsible for Oscar and Hannah and all these lives ruined- But nothing came out of her mouth. The scream that was building up in her throat never made it to its destination. Cowardice, she chalked it up to, and that made her wish she could just take her fists out of her pockets and start pounding herself. ------- VJ was glad he found her, as he walked up to the lighthouse and hesitating for a moment before continuing. He wondered (not for the first time) if this was the right move to make, or whether or not it should be his move, but he felt he should try. For his mom’s sake, because he could see that while both she and Zac were trying to get by, and were still doing pretty well, they both missed Evie. Missed seeing her walk through the house. And though Zac hid it pretty well, he was angry, at the whole situation, at how the family has fallen apart. That wasn’t his only reason though. He remembered how Evie had went around to the farmhouse when he moved out, to try and get him to reach out to Leah again. A bright smile came to his lips when he remembered the clothes Leah showed him and Billie for the baby a week ago. His mother was fully on board now and he was so grateful that she was there to help Billie get through the pregnancy. And even though he’ll take all of John’s shifts at the Surf Club before he’ll ever admit it, he was still nervous about the whole thing. He didn’t know where he would be if he didn’t have Leah. Evie helped him realise that. VJ felt it was only right he try to do the same. He could see her now, sitting down on the rough terrain, looking out towards the cliff. She was wearing a jumper which he found weird, especially given the temperature rising over the last few days. He reminded himself to be prepared for any mood Evie would be in right now just as he reached her. “Umm… hi, Evie,” he said tentatively, approaching her as she looked down to him. Evie’s eyes looked exhausted, like she was ready to fall asleep in an instant. VJ couldn’t help but be impressed that she was still standing. Evie nodded hesitantly, not trusting herself to speak. There were so many questions on the tip of her tongue, how was he, how was things at home, how was Billie doing, didn’t he have work right now, but she couldn’t bring herself to ask. She didn’t have a right to know. “You mind if I sit?” VJ asked, given her a warm smile. When she gave him no answer, he decided to take that as a yes (because it wasn’t necessary a no) and sat close to her. “Hope I’m not interrupting anything.” “What’s there for me to do?” Evie asked, her voice barely coming above a rasp whisper. She had just been looking at the schedule Zac gave her, when she was expected to be back at work, but she didn’t know if she even should. It wasn’t just the fact that her job there had pretty much been reduced to tasks assisting the classroom and outside… she can’t just go back there and still pretend everything was okay. That wouldn’t be fair to Zac. As much as she hated to admit it, she wouldn’t miss her job, not when everytime she did it, she had that nagging feeling that she was missing something important, something that would have helped her do a good job. VJ didn’t like the hopelessness in Evie’s voice so tried to think of something else to think of to lift her spirits. “Billie wanted me to say thank you for going over to keep her company, y’know, last week. I would have told you earlier, but…”, he trailed off, knowing why he didn’t tell her that was because he hadn’t seen her around. Still, he didn’t want Evie to feel bad about her decision, she must have had her reasons, even if they were reasons Zac and Leah didn’t like. “Listen, Billie… she’s been alone for… a very long time, she’s used to handling everything by herself, so she really doesn’t like it, mostly, when people try and take stuff from her to do, but she still appreciates your help. She said you’ll be welcome to hang out there again, if you need someplace to go.” Evie just shook her head. “Thanks VJ but no…she’ll have better company than I can offer her- as if I could call what I did help.” This was a lot worse than VJ thought. He tried to get a deeper look in Evie’s eyes and his breath almost caught in his throat at how much pain Evie’s held. “I don’t know if you remember, but you and I were in different positions ages ago- I meant like metaphorical positions, not where we’re sitting right-” “Yeah, I got it,” Evie gently interrupted him, even though her soft eyes glazed over into a stern stare. “You were the one to tell me I shouldn’t be cutting Mom out of what was going on with me and Billie and I’m better off because of it. Didn’t think I had to be giving you the same advice, but…”, he trailed off. “It’s not the same, not even close,” Evie said wearily. She appreciated VJ for trying, but he didn’t get it. The situation is entirely different and he shouldn’t be trying to help her. VJ could only shrug. “Why is it different? I needed Mum’s help, you helped me see that, you need our help.” “I don’t,” Evie replied, as if it was that simple. She would have accepted their help if she thought she deserved it, if she thought it would do any good, but it wouldn’t and she didn’t. “I don’t need to be dragging down any of you with what was my fault. And you guys don’t need to wait for me to catch up. I’m sure Zac and Leah are doing just fine that I’m not there.” “They’d be better if you were there, I know that for certainty. Zac is still hoping he can convince you to come back.” Evie sighed miserably, not exactly willing to hear this now. “Zac’s way too stubborn, even when it comes to people who don’t deserve it.” “You do deserve it, Evie.” VJ insisted. “Zac may not understand and be angry about this, yeah, but...” “But nothing, I hurt him, I don’t deserve to have him trying to help me,” Evie interrupted him, no longer looking at him. Even though moving out was something she had to do, she still hurt Zac, she could see that. “Matt’s missing you too. I’ve been speaking to him yesterday and… don’t blame him or anything, but he has been worried about you for a while now, and especially with Josh… he doesn’t think you trust him.” “It’s not about trust,” Evie replied, leaning her head to the side a bit before straightening up again, as if trying to keep herself from falling, her eyes missing a certain gleam that he was sure there had been before. Well, now that VJ thought about it, Evie hadn’t had that look in a very long time. He remembered the look in her eyes are more determined one, trying to hide the exhaustion. He wondered why he didn’t notice it before, why didn’t anyone else. Before he could ponder this further, Evie was talking again. “Matt is a wonderful guy, but he can’t solve everything. He’s probably right, I’ve treated him too badly, and I haven’t even seen him in ages.” It wouldn’t surprise her that she didn’t even know what she was intending to do, she’s lied to herself plenty of times before. She tried to tell him that it wasn’t his fault, but… what else could he ask from her? “I can’t make this right, I’ve made him feel like that and I shouldn’t, he didn’t do anything wrong.” “I think it’d be easier for him to believe that if he heard it from you. I’ve seen you two together and I haven’t seen him this happy since Maddy left. And he knows you didn’t mean to do anything wrong, but you still shouldn’t leave him in the lurk like that. At least where I can see, you don’t want anyone to worry about you because you care about him, and everyone else.” Evie looked up to him. She had thought that, in fact even now still held onto that thought for some reason even though she knew it still didn’t make things better, but she doubted that as well. If she couldn’t get it about herself, then how can anyone else be able to depict it better? “How can you know that?” VJ could see it by recognising the same look from Billie. She never wanted to worry the people she cared about either. He knew Billie didn’t like to tell him if she needed help, as if she was causing trouble, but she’s been more open with him ever since he moved back into Alf’s house, so he trusted her. He loved that she wanted to do it all by herself, but he wanted to do his share too. “Just wanted to say… I get where you’re coming from, but… home’s always going to be open for you, and Leah and Zac… they may be upset now, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to give up on you.” “I had to leave, VJ, I had to stay away. All I manage to do is make things worse whenever I try to open up, it’s just me trying to make all of this about me.” But secretly, she didn't know if that was true. She didn't doubt that they were safer without her in the picture, but did she really know that. Did she leave because she wanted to, to avoid the pressure of not being able to talk to them. “Well, isn’t it about you? I mean, you’re the one who lost-” “VJ, please, please save it. Don’t you think I didn’t see the looks I’ve been getting, the looks of worry, or- God, pity? I don’t deserve your sympathy or pity. Even now… I hurt you guys by leaving, you shouldn’t be trying to help me.” “You had your reasons, it’ll take time, but you and Zac will come around, eventually. I’m sure of it.” “Not this time, I don’t want him to. He, Leah, you, you’ve all better off without me.” VJ opened his mouth but then hesitated. He didn’t know what to say to that, and thought he should leave it to someone who would know, who would help her get away from those thoughts. Should he mention how Matt had been speaking to him earlier this week? Matt had been thinking that he should give Evie some space before begin talking to her again. VJ knew they had some argument, but Matt was hoping to rebuild the bridge again, finally. Coincidentally, VJ had also heard from Mason that there was a party from university happening during the weekend, and Mason was planning to bring Evie along. VJ dutifully told Matt, and Matt decided to come along too. As much as he wanted to tell her right there and then, he decided it was Matt’s news to tell. “Look, I’m leaving, but… just talk to Matt okay. At least to give him peace of mind. Trust me, you both need it. And you do deserve our help, whether you know it or not.” And, with that he stood up and left her to ponder at that. She knew she didn’t treat Matt right, if there was a chance that she could make it up to him… well, then she’d take it without hesitation. But what if she did? Then maybe, if Matt would accept her back, she could pretend to believe that she deserved that chance for a while before things (As always) turned to crap and people start getting hurt because she decided to take that chance. Everyone around her just seemed to be doomed just by trying to be there with her. She had to stop making the same mistakes. Maybe that was why she ended up here, staring out into the sea below the cliff, and wondering what would happen if she just jumped. It looked really far down, and yet that idea brought a sense of calm to her. If VJ hadn’t just arrive… ----- “Look at you, Mr Med Student,” Justin cheerfully called out as Mason entered the kitchen. “How was your first day?” “You mean once Tori stopped hovering over my shoulder to see if I was getting it right?” Mason said brightly, stopping by the sink to grab himself some water. He couldn’t help but feel exhausted, but that only made him feel prouder in a way, after doing a long day at the hospital. He turned around to his older brother. “How about you? What’s the deal with you and Phoebe?” Justin shook his head warily at Mason’s cheeky smile before turning back on the couch. Ever since he got back home, when he and his siblings finally found a shaky reconciliation that got better overtime, Brody and Mason had been teasing him non-stop when it came to him and Phoebe. They weren’t in a relationship or anything, and Justin wasn’t entirely sure what he was looking for, let alone what Phoebe was looking for, but his brothers took it for what they wanted to see. “Yeah, yeah, laugh it up.” “I’m not saying anything!” Mason argued back, plopping down on the seat next to him. “I just think it’s good that someone’s actually broken the past that tough exterior of yours!” Justin laughed and leaned back as Buddy jumped up onto the couch at the sound of laughter and curled up on the other end of the couch. It was true though, Justin had been creeping into a state of relaxation in the Bay, and had shed some of his distant attitude when it came to Phoebe, or Alf. “So, what do you have planned for the rest of the week?” Mason shrugged. “There’s a party on Saturday with some friends from Uni, I’m going to go there, meet some people y’know.” He drank a bit, before noticing Justin’s smile stifle a bit, and sighed. “I won’t be drinking, don’t worry.” “If only that was my only worry,” Justin rebuked, leaning forward. “You sure you trust these guys?” Mason nodded, already feeling the slightest bit annoyed that he and Tori were always asking him questions like this. He knew it was for his own safety, but he still didn’t have to like it. “Yes. I’ll even be bringing along someone from the Bay with me.” “Who?” Justin asked curiously. “Matt?” “No, he’s umm.. he’s busy,” Mason said, thinking how he didn’t already tell him about it. Mason had been thinking about, well, the situation with Evie, someone whom Mason was beginning to spark a friendship with but hasn’t seen in a while. He knew of the whole situation with her former boyfriend, Matt told him all about it, and the thought occurred to him: why not try and look for a relationship with her? Maybe he could be the one to help her get through this dark time she was in? “I was thinking about bringing Evie, you know, Zac’s niece?” “I’ve seen her around,” Justin told him, though not often. Alf mentioned her to Justin, about the rough time she was going through and how she was spiralling. To be fair, Justin could understand her, he couldn’t imagine how much he’d fall apart if he lost any of his siblings. “You sure she’d be up for a party? I’ve heard-” “Well, yeah, but hopefully if I can convince her to come along, maybe I can help brighten things up for her?” Mason said wistfully, hoping that will be the case. He then noticed Justin looking at him carefully, and gave an annoyed sigh. “Okay, what? You’re doing that look?” “I’m doing the look? Mason, you’ve got that almost giddy look yourself.” “Not this again!” Mason groaned as he got up, no longer in a good mood at that reminder. “Brody and Tori have already lectured me about this, I don’t need to hear it from you too! Evie’s just a friend!” “As long as it remains that way. Mason, you still gotta be careful. ‘They’ are still out there.” Mason rolled his eyes, as if Justin saying, ‘The Syndicate,’ would cause them to come crashing down on this house. “Come on Justin, we can’t live our entire lives in this house in fear! Maybe Decker’s keeping the Syndicate back, maybe he’s got them on the run, we haven’t heard anything from them in ages!” Mason argued, wishing he could break his brother out of his shell that he always seems to shrink into whenever the topic of the Syndicate comes up. “That doesn’t mean they’re still out there, Mason! Doesn’t mean our entire family isn’t at risk!” Justin shook his head in frustration. As the youngest, he didn’t think Mason ever really understood the full risk of what their family faced. He understood his younger brother wanted the freedom, but he needed to know where to draw the line. “What happens if they come back, you’d just be putting this Evie in danger.” “What, like you’re putting Phoebe in danger? No matter what’s going on between you two, are we just supposed to keep everyone away from a thick wall that surrounds this family.” Mason didn’t want to argue about this, but he didn’t have time for Justin’s hypocrisy, given how close he’s gotten to Phoebe, or how Tori was getting way too friendly than professional with Dr Nate, no matter how much she liked to pretend no-one else saw. Why can’t he pursue a relationship? “That’s not what—okay, we have done that, Mason, you’re right, but it’s not as though we don’t have good reason to do so? Me and Tori- we know what the stakes are.” “So do I,” Mason argued before snorting. “Or do you forget that it was my girlfriend who almost got us all killed?” He saw Justin’s face pale at that, and he immediately regretted saying it, but he had a point to make. “I know what I did wrong, and I’m gonna make sure I won’t make the same ones again. I’m going to work a way to help protect this family, and still have a life. You can’t deny me that, Justin.” Justin looked up at his younger brother and shook his head. He knew Mason didn’t want to think how Lara betrayed him, and even though Justin, especially after all the secrets he’d kept, wanted to just forgive and forget, he wanted to trust his brother to be more careful, just as he, Tori and Brody had trusted him to protect them all these years. “Okay, fine, if that’s what you want to do. But be careful okay. Keep an eye out on your surroundings and keep your phone on you.” “Yes… yeah, okay, I’ll be careful,” Mason replied, his tone softening just to keep his brother satisfied. Mason guessed from where he was sitting, Justin had reason to be concerned, but that protective side, to Mason at least, usually came off as overbearing, even though he trusted his older brother. Anyway, walking out to the porch, with Buddy trailing behind him to get some fresh air, he thought back to the party this weekend. He just hoped that Evie would want to go to it, and no matter what Justin thought, Mason couldn’t find a reason not to want to have a relationship with Evie, as long as she wanted one to. She was beautiful, back when Mason started hanging out with her and Matt, she was smart and nice and a really bright smile… 1 month ago… “Hey,” Matt greeted her, free as a bird, as he and Mason popped onto seats next to Evie, as she was working. “What you’re working on?” Given how concentrated she looked while she was almost buried deep to her nose in books and papers, Mason half-expected her to look at least annoyed at this interruption, but instead Evie smiled genuinely at the pair of them before they even sat down. “You know, just assignments due in the next few weeks., Art, Sociology and stuff like that…”, she trailed off, and Mason couldn’t help but notice the glimpse of a vacant look in her eyes before she looked down again. “Anyways Matt, is Ash going to give you a break from your shifts yet?” “I’d probably have to wait to next year for that to happen,” Matt joked with a short laugh. Yet Mason could notice a bit of hesitation between the pair, as if the garage was bringing up uncomfortable mentions. Before he could comment though, Matt turned to him with a much more easier smile. “You’re looking for a Medical Degree, she wants to become a teacher, what’s left for me, eh?” “You’re studying medical?” Evie asked, leaning onto the table in interest and Mason shrugged modestly. “You have an older sibling as a doctor who talks about her day every dinner, it kind of rubs off on you,” Mason dryly replied. “I’m enjoying it though. The only problem I’m having is organising all my notes. They’ll all in a mess in my room.” “Well, I can come around to help later if you want,” Evie told him and Mason looked at her as if she was a godsend. “Matt will too.” “Well, I’ll come along, but Evie’s the kind of person you’d want for organisational skills,” Matt said ruefully, rubbing his hand along his head, but Evie shook her head. “Na, not really…but Matt’s got a gift for noticing little stuff I wouldn’t, or anyone else. He’s really something.” “Well at least tomorrow I’ve got help then,” Mason smiled widely at that before Matt, turning a bit red in the cheeks at the praise, brought up his hand. “Hold up there. Don’t expect us to start writing the essay for you.” Evie snorted at that and Mason shook his head wirily. If he wasn’t so occupied in arranging his seat, he would have noticed the look of uncertainty in Evie’s eyes as she ducked down again, or the way Matt’s smile dimmed a bit at that. He remembered how Evie was when he first met her, always smiling and working and willing to help. But overtime she drifted further and further apart. Mason heard of how grief can change people, but even though he may not know her as much as Matt did, he felt this urge that he didn’t want that to happen to Evie. Hopefully this weekend will change things. Still, he felt a nagging urge that told him he shouldn’t be leaving Matt in the lope for this. He knew Matt and Evie were going through a tough patch in their friendship, and he was worried about going behind Matt’s back about this. Hell, he had been worried about going behind Evie’s back whenever Matt and Mason talked about her, especially with Matt both frustrated and worried about her. Maybe he ought to let him know, and surely Matt wouldn't have a problem if Mason hoped to ask Evie out... ------ “How have you’ve been eating?” Evie looked at Nadia and shrugged. Evie didn’t know why she asked the same question from last week, it would be doubtful that anything would have changed in that short amount of time. “Not very well, I guess. I… I didn’t really feel hungry, not in a while.” “Have you ever felt the urge to skip out on meals?” Nadia asked gently, easing the bluntness of the question. Not that Evie didn’t really mind. Surprisingly, she found Nadia’s bluntness better than if the older woman had tried to ease her way through platitudes. “Sometimes…” Evie does remember leaving the house plenty of times to avoid eating, but when she did stay, she did eat what they gave her. It didn’t feel okay when she did it, but she still did it. Everytime she ate at the table, it felt as though she was begrudging them of every bite. Then Nadia asked the question she never expected: “What type of cereal do you like?” Evie looked up, her face scrunched up in confusion. “What does that have to do with anything?” Nadia shrugged lightly, smiling easily in a way that made Evie irrationally infuriated. “I was just wondering. We’ve been talking about what has happened to you, how you’ve been trying to manage it- you’ve buried yourself in work, you tried to spend time out the house- but I want to know about you, as a person.” Evie stared at her doubtfully. “You said you’ve read your files about me- surely you’d have made up your mind up by now.” “Those files don’t tell the full story. They don’t tell me your thoughts, your hobbies, your fears, anything that makes you… you.” Evie shook her head scathingly. “I don’t think there’s anything worth hearing about any of that stuff, not with me anyway. None of that matters not in the… I don’t know, grand scheme of things.” Nadia let that sink in for a moment before pointing out, “Then you don’t have a problem telling me your favourite cereal then.” Evie didn’t answer that. She didn’t feel like she was being mocked or anything, but she didn’t want to slip into a sense of comfort, because it would only make it easier for her to keep talking about herself, and that’s not what she should be allowed to do. She expected Nadia to keep prompting her, but instead the older woman just leaned back in her chair. They were left staring at each other, the silence broken only through Daisy’s small whines as she buried her nose into the couch’s fabric next to Evie’s leg. Evie didn’t know how longer either of them could take this silence, but before she could say anything, Nadia broke it with a very dry response. “Five minutes of silence, that’s a lot harder to do than most people would believe.” Evie was so surprised at how much time passed that she didn’t even consider how she should respond to that, but Nadia was speaking again. “You don’t like talking about yourself, do you?” “No, not really.” Evie laced her hands together on her lap, feeling Daisy brush her nose against her hip bone which Evie took as a sign for her to move her arm up to let Daisy snuggle in closer. “Well, I shouldn’t, should I? I mean- no one likes people who just talk about themselves, but somehow I always manage,” Evie said bitterly. “I wanted to put them first, ever since it happened, because they- Zac, Leah, everyone- they deserved perfection, and I wanted to make sure I don’t make it about myself... but I failed. They were just more and more worried about me.” “Well, firstly, I would have to disagree with one of your points: no one deserves perfection. Not me, not you, not Zac, no one. No one is perfect, we’ve all done bad things or mistakes, therefore it wouldn’t be right for anyone to get perfection. No one should expect that from anyone, and besides, perfection is too much pressure. Do you remember what we discussed last week?” “Yes I remember what we talked about, how maybe I pushed myself to be perfect- but that’s not the point. I deserved to feel that pressure, I needed to. They deserve the best, and I should have given it to them, but I… I don’t know, I thought to do so I had to keep it all to myself but I don’t know whether or not I did it to protect myself from stuff I didn’t want to think.” She did care about them, she did, but she didn’t know whether or not what she did it was for them or for herself. It was for yourself. Can’t you see that? Can’t you see you never do anything right for anyone else? Nadia considered that, and tilting her head to one side as she looked at Evie so she wouldn’t be seen as staring constantly at her, asked “Have you considered that maybe you were thinking both? That you wanted to avoid thinking about it, but also wanted to try and help your family and friends? That way, you believed that it would be best for all of you.” The look Evie gave her was incredulous. “No, I mean- it can’t be both! I can’t be focusing on what I wanted and what they wanted at the same time. It can only be one or the other, and I don’t want to focus on me. I don’t want to make this all about myself.” “I get it, I know you don’t, but Evie, I promise you, you letting me know more about you, that’s not making it about yourself. Also it’s completely normal for people to think about themselves from time to time, it’s almost impossible not to.” “It doesn’t feel normal,” Evie countered back, scratching against the back of her neck. “It feels wrong, just to even think about me now. I’ve done it so many times before and it never goes right for other people. And even now I thought that… I don’t know, that I was trying to put them first, I wanted to do things right, but… but was I doing it for them or for myself, to try and make myself better? As if I was thinking that if I could do that right, at least then it would… I just don’t know.” “Well, I think its own natural that you’d want to feel good by doing the right thing, and the fact that you’re worrying about it now seems to make it clear that you were thinking of them. But I can’t help but wonder about what you’ve said before. Keeping this all to yourself- I doubt it’s exactly what anyone else wanted you to do.” Evie’s eyes narrowed. “Yeah, well they wouldn’t want me to be angry all the time. If I can’t control my emotions… I just feel this anger and it just leeks out of me, like a volcano… I shouldn’t be angry, not with them…” Nadia did give a small sigh at that. “You know what I’ve always hated: the word ‘should’ when it comes to feelings. Like there’s some Bible-like textbook that tells people what they should or shouldn’t feel. Emotions don’t work like that, people don’t work like that. Though to be fair, life would be easier if there was. There are things you should and shouldn’t do, but what you feel is not one of those things. But Evie, can’t you see? When a person bottles up their emotions and pretend they’re not there, it ends up exploding regardless. Maybe not in big bursts, but it still happens.” Evie just shook her head. Well, in theory, what Nadia was saying made sense in a way, but it didn’t connect to what Evie had known. There were always right things to feel and wrong things to feel. It wasn’t complicated. And that stuff about bottling emotions… well she had hoped if she just ignored it (but not enough so she could forget what she did), it would go away and she could focus on more important things. “No, I shouldn’t be angry at anyone else-” “Why not?” Nadia asked curiously, leaning forward in her chair. “Why do you think so? If I was in your position, I’d feel really angry with the world around me, for giving me all this trauma. That’s not wrong, Evie- at the risk of sounding like a cliché, that’s being human.” “It’s not trauma,” Evie insisted, knowing Nadia suggested this in the last session, but she didn’t want to belief that. People with trauma deserved sympathy and help, she didn’t. She couldn’t be suffering from trauma when she was the person who caused it. “I shouldn’t be getting angry at Zac or anyone else. They’ve done nothing wrong-” “No you shouldn't. But maybe unintentionally, sometimes, even the people who love you have given you the wrong image of what they were actually trying to do. That won’t help you.” “What does that supposed to mean?” Evie asked, her voice turning a higher pitch, already feeling defensive towards her family. “Well, as you said before, Zac and other people have been through a lot this year. Even now, they won’t always make the best decisions. Was there ever a moment when they may have made you feel worse, or pressured?” The words ‘No’ were on Evie’s tongue, but suddenly her tongue felt so tied. Because there had been moments when she felt overwhelmed when talking to them. They were just trying to understand her, but that didn’t help, especially when she knew it wouldn’t help them. When Matt mentioned Josh the last time they spoke… of course she knew that Josh wasn’t a good guy, she just didn’t want to talk about it anymore. It wasn’t their fault, they weren’t trying to pressurise her, even though they should. “They weren’t trying to do that, I wasn’t being completely honest with them...” “I never said they were doing that intentionally. Even good people like Zac can make assumptions and get the wrong idea. But still you should have been more honest with them, you’re right. I’m sure you didn’t want them to worry but if you kept giving them the wrong idea… I know you don’t want to hear that it won’t help you, but it’s not going to help them either. It's important for you to have your limits, but everyone needs to lay them out first.” “I know that, and… I didn’t want to keep doing that to them. My… my best friend, Matt, I made him think that I didn’t trust him enough to tell him what was going on… he needed a friend and I wasn’t enough…I just thought if I just left him alone now… he had other friends, better friends, he doesn’t need someone who… who treats him like that.” Evie said, feeling her face turning red from the rush of emotions. She remembered when Zac thought she was getting drunk, whenever she was going out, and she let him believe it. She deceived him, there was no other word for it. Maybe Zac was just going with what he expected, maybe she was trying to make him realise that she wasn’t worth it, but Evie felt ashamed that she still didn’t say the truth- the truth about the nerves before, the truth about the scars. “Do you need him?” Definitely, but Evie knew better at this point than to give into that need, that selfish, unyielding need. “Isn’t this the part when you say I should try and open up to them?” she asked instead. “Would you start if I did say that?” Nadia remarked dryly. “And then what? I’ve lied to them, kept things from them, and suddenly all I have to do is say ‘Sorry, I won’t do it again’, and then all is forgiven?!” Evie didn’t spat out those words, but it was the next best thing. Nadia didn’t rise at the provocation though, just took a moment to consider her and asked. “Well, you’ll never know until you try- as long as that’s what you want.” “No, it isn’t,” Evie replied bluntly, intentionally ignoring the sceptical look on Nadia’s face. “I’ve made so many mistakes, and I’ve said sorry everytime but that word… sorry… it doesn’t change anything. People keep using that word so much that it loses all meaning. I’ve done too much to be asked for forgiveness. And even if they accept it, how do I know I won’t mess up again and… let them down again after they’ve been so patient…” Evie sighed as she pulled tightly on a loose strand of hair that blew against her cheek. She can’t trust herself to do it right. “You want to be honest with them but at the same time, worried about what it could lead to, and that stops you. You’ve always been able to keep fighting your way through life, but when that fear sets in, you can’t be sure what their reactions would be.” Well, she wasn’t wrong. Part of Evie was worried that what if they found out the full extent of what she was feeling, of what she did to herself. They’d either be disgusted or ashamed that she let things go too far, (even if she deserved it) or else want to help even more and she couldn’t deal with that. As much as she hated to be thinking about herself, it wouldn’t do any of them any good, not just her. “But isn’t that the problem, I should be thinking about what they want and, but… I don’t see why they would want to… it’s my fault…” Evie struggled with her words as Nadia waited patiently for her to continue. “I didn’t want to leave them dealing with me being so negative and so angry and upset all the time, but, do I just pretend to be okay with everything? I know it isn’t okay, and it’s my fault, all of it, and they should know that. It's... It's there, and they have to see it, they have to. I can’t lie to them, I can’t keep them in the dark. Otherwise I’d be like… I’d be like…” Nadia hesitated for a minute, looking at her before asking. “You’re afraid you’d be just like Josh.” Evie sighed and nodded reluctantly. “I should have seen it, I should have gotten him to stop.” It was an old argument, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t true. “That’s all there is to it. I mean, why else would you mention him if not that?” “Because Zac told me you blamed yourself. Well, did you know that Josh killed Charlotte King when he did?” Nadia asked her bluntly. “Well, no, but…” “Did you know that when Zac was arrested for it?” “No but that doesn’t mean I could have found out before Zac got-” “How could you have? From what I understood, Josh pretended to be blind at the time. That rarely gives reason for anyone to suspect him as a murder suspect.” “I was dating him, that should have given me enough reason to suspect anything was up. No one… no one can’t just do something like that, accidental or not, and then just keep… doing everything they’ve done before as if nothing ever happened. That isn’t normal either…he had to have slipped up, but I must have ignored it.” Evie trailed off, feeling a slimmer of guilt, because Josh had been her boyfriend, her fiancé, and yet she was talking about him as if he was some sociopath. “Can you think of a moment when you think you could have seen that Josh was capable of such a thing?” Evie was caught point blank at that question, actually wondering if she could. She had took it for granted that she ought to have seen it (no matter how hard it might have been), but she couldn’t think of it… “Evie, also please remember, anything you say here, I won’t judge and it will be completely confidential.” But just then she even considered the idea of even having hope, her ever-so-helpful memory dragged up one moment. “When um… when Tank… Wayne Snelgrove… he was a… an ex-boyfriend…”, she was sure Nadia caught the note of shame in her voice. “He was released from prison… he was in hospital… Josh was upset… he went see Tank… he attacked him. Tank was lying on a bed, injured, and Josh still attacked him. I- I never thought about it, I just chalked it up to him being angry, and I couldn’t disagree with him being angry, because… Tank almost killed him, but what he did… I’ve never seen him do anything like that, and if he could do that…” “There’s still a wide gulf between attacking someone in anger and murder. Tank was the person, as you said, almost killed Josh, no one could expect anything less from anger. Of course, he still have controlled the anger, as you said.” “Then… how else do you show that what that person did hurt you?” Evie commented, even as she was thinking that what Nadia said first did seem right. She had been furious beyond belief in her life, she’d even seen Zac like that. Did that make either of them capable of murder? She didn’t think so, but that didn’t change the fact that Josh’s anger may have meant something different, that he was a murderer. Because who knows if he was telling the truth about it being an accident? Josh had lied about the whole incident with Charlotte to begin with, in fact, the only reason he turned himself in the end was because Kat had apparently given him a deadline to do so. If she hadn’t found out, he would have been fine with hiding it for the rest of his life. Nadia nodded. “Well, that’ll be a question for the end of times, but I can tell you what I’ve learned during my life: If you try to demonstrate your anger through a more healthier way, without hurting people while still letting people know that how that anger has affected you, I would only encourage it. It’s better than letting it fester until the only person you’re angry at is yourself or you end up lashing out at the people you love.” She let that sink in, because Evie knew that she was referring to what she said earlier about anger, before asking. “I might as well ask this, because there’s no point going around the bush: How did it feel when you first found out what Josh did?” Evie felt her tongue dry up, because ever since that night, when she learned the truth, she had tried to avoid even thinking about it. She tried not to think how it affected her, it shouldn’t matter. She shifted her head, focusing on Daisy in a poor attempt to act as if she wasn’t just asked that. “Silence huh?t Well, that’s one way to feel.” Nadia’s voice was filled with light sarcasm, the type that was so subtle you wouldn’t think of it at first. It didn’t make Evie feel any better though. “He was responsible for the death of the woman who killed your sister, your trust in him was broken, he went off on the run to leave everyone else to deal with his actions...or are you telling me you didn't feel anything because of it?” Evie noticed a genuine curious note in Nadia's voice at the last question. It'd be a lot easier not to feel, not to feel any of this. “I don’t know what you want me to say. What Josh and I had wasn’t good, that was all there is to it.” Evie’s mind, still dreary, focused for the first part of that sentence. She never thought about how what Josh did had turned that particular situation completely upside-down: Charlotte, the woman who killed Denny, who terrorised her family, had become the victim, and Josh had become the perpetrator. That was so messed up, and maybe that was why she didn’t think about it- because it was too much to try and make sense out of, and… what did it matter at this point? “I can’t tell you what to say. That’s the whole thing with therapy. I am here to help you understand this properly and help convince you that you can talk to the people who love you, but I can’t tell you what’s the right thing to say or not. That’s for you to decide, it is how you get back control. But you’re still human, so I can say this without a shred of doubt- what Josh did affected you very much.” “Okay, well here’s this,” Evie said sharply, because why not at this point? “I don’t care about the pain, I should feel that pain, it’s my own to deal with, because… because everyone I’ve ever known has either died or been screwed over,” Evie said bluntly as she looked down at her feet. She thought she would have took a deep breath before saying something as… bleak as that. “I’ve guessed I’ve known this for a while, but I… I tried to ignore it. I’m like a magnet for bad people, and it’s anyone whose around me suffers because of it. Not just with Josh, but with Tank, Andy, my father…” “Maybe… maybe you were seeing a pattern that wasn’t there.” When Evie arched an eyebrow, but still couldn’t look up, Nadia elaborated. “Sometimes, people sees things so one-sided that if something happens around them multiple times, they see it as a result of themselves. In most cases, it’s correlation, not causation.” Evie listened but shook her head once she was finished. It didn’t seem that way; she was responsible for what Tank did to Josh and surely that would make her responsible for all the rest. “That’s not it, no… it is my fault, I should have known better. It…” She needed Nadia to understand. She was breathing rather heavily, and when Nadia asked her if she wanted a glass of water, she shook her head. “When I was with Tank, everyone warned me about him, how wrong he was, and I didn’t listen. I was stupid and arrogant and I didn’t realise it in time. And he almost killed Josh. That makes it my fault.” Nadia sighed before answering. “Indirectly, maybe. And I would have to agree you ignoring the worries of your family and friends wasn’t the smartest thing to do. But you didn’t asked Tank to attack Josh and you didn't know he was going to do that. You had no control over Tank’s actions, no more than you had for anything Josh did. Tank had manipulated you, would have hurt you had you not realised in time and he took it upon himself to try and hurt Josh. That wasn’t you. I think that would make it easier for you to forgive yourself for that.” Evie knew Nadia was just trying to help her, but it didn’t. It only made her feel more guilty, because she shouldn’t have let herself be manipulated like that, should have learned not to put her own desires first. And even more guilty that it took her so long for her to realise that. “Forgive myself?” Evie asked, her voice aghast at the mere suggestion. “Why would I want to forgive myself? I should… I caused it, like it was a… I don’t know, like those butterfly effects everyone talks about? I caused that. Maybe I didn’t attack Josh, but I might as well have. If I hadn’t been so stupid, none of this would have happened… that’s what I should be remembering what I did every day, only I was too….cowardly to realise it, or even admit it.” “But you are admitting it, Evie, right now to me. What good does trying to connect those events together do for you, Evie? What good does it do anyone to remain fixated on mistakes that had happened a long time ago? From what Zac told me about it, everyone had moved on from it- why can’t you?” Evie scoffed, turning away on the couch and unintentionally making Daisy jump off as well, as if the dog was suddenly afraid of catching the negativity that was radiating off Evie now. “It wasn’t a mistake, it was me thinking I was right and me holding onto that thought no matter what and it almost got Josh killed. It almost got Zac killed. You can’t… you can’t just ignore those moments when you screw up, and other people suffer because of it. No one should just pretend that stuff didn’t happen. That’s… it’s just not good, it isn’t right.” She felt her body almost ready to start rocking back and forth and had to keep her body rigid. She shouldn’t look so pitiful. Nadia observed her body movement, her lips reversing into a small frown before commenting, “Funny thing is, you do have a point. It is easier for people to try and pretend actions they have taken never happened, or worse, to blame others for it, but that is not the same as looking back at it, realising where you went wrong, and moving on from it.” Evie couldn’t move on. It went against every instinct in her body to do so, with so much inside her screaming that just thinking about doing so would be selfish, cowardly, weak. “I couldn’t make it right, I couldn’t… I couldn’t stay, I had to leave. I was making everyone miserable-” “Do you know that for a fact? Did anyone tell you so?” “No, they didn’t, but I could tell. I see them when I’m not around them. They don’t look worried or frustrated, not really, they just seem… happy, at ease. That’s not the case whenever I’m there… Zac was disappointed that I was drinking, Matt was fed up with me thinking about Josh, and I don’t blame them- they were both affected by Josh, I just made things worse. Yet they still tried to help, even though it wasn’t what they wanted. At least, if I was gone, I’d stop hurting them.” Nadia shrugged. “Sounds to me like maybe you were trying to protect yourself as well.” Evie took a sharp inhale at that, while her inner critic crooned in glee at the idea that she was just thinking about herself again. “So what, you think that I wasn’t thinking about them, that I was just left them for… for selfish reasons?” Her voice didn’t sound indignant or defensive as it would have had to such a statement, it just sounded defeated, as if this was what she had known and feared, but ignored. “I didn’t say that, why are you? Why did you think I was accusing you of doing so for selfish reasons?” “It wasn’t their fault-” “We’re not talking about whose fault it is, that’s not what we’re here for. No one can do the right thing constantly here, yet no one’s setting out to hurt the other. You wanted to help them, and they don’t want to judge you or put you down, they just want to help you-” “I don’t want them to care for me, I want to be alone, I want to deal with this by myself-” “Can you seriously tell me, that you never once considered opening up, considered letting them help you?” Evie faltered, looking away from her to stare at her hands, as if they would have the answer. Because she had, and that made it worse. “I don’t… it doesn’t matter what I want. I’ve always gone with what I wanted, but I… I couldn’t tell if this was just another time, if what you’re saying about the pressure…I’ve been afraid for so long but… that I left to avoid that stress, so I didn’t have to be confronted that I had these issues… issues that shouldn’t be ignored.” “I doubt that was the only reason though. You were worried about letting them down, and wanted to protect yourself from that, as well as from the pressure. Your love for them is clear, I doubt it was the easy thing for you to make that decision, or that distancing yourself from them is what you wanted.” Evie didn’t want to protect herself, she didn’t want to be more of a coward than she already was. “I don’t want it to be because of that, it shouldn’t, I mean… isn’t that what you’ve been telling me, that I should confront whatever issues there are? And I can’t say any of this to anyone else… I don’t want to be mean to them, I don’t want to be so bitter, but… how else to convince them that I’m not worth it, because I’m too gutless to say it out loud, or else I can’t convince them properly, that it isn’t their problem.” Nadia admitted, but continued. “Yes, you should confront it through the right way, but just because you didn’t want to see that those issues were there doesn’t make you a bad person. You just didn't want anyone to see how tired you've been. Keeping your feelings to yourself doesn't make you like Josh, this is not about laws or anything like that. This is about you, as much as you may not like that." Evie didn't believe that. Keeping these emotions, she thought it was right, but was it honest? How did it not make her like Josh? Besides, there was much more than that she wasn't saying. "Here’s what I see from where you’re standing: talking about this stuff to your family isn’t an option, so you left because you believed at least this way, you wouldn’t be infecting them with this ‘misery’. To me, it’s a lot more than just you being miserable, you were still trying to protect them.” “As long as that’s the truth,” Evie admitted. “I can’t tell if it is anymore… I can’t keep them being so worried, it’s not fair for them. But… like I’ll still be going to work, I still run into them… if I really wanted to stop them from worrying, I’d.. I can’t make myself see the point in it. It’s all just… nothing, but it’s not about that, and I try to tell myself that, but that thought is still there, and I’m not doing as good as I am. And at the same time I know I should just leave them alone instead of letting them down, and I’m not… not exactly happy at work because I shouldn’t be there, but at the same time, no one wants to be around someone who’s negative all of the time, and I’m just… dishonest for being there, like I’m deceiving them.” “I don’t believe that’s what you’re doing, or even trying to do. Maybe you’re not at your best, but that’s only because you have all this emotional baggage. And no one can be happy all the time, no one’s expecting you to be so. Despite it all, you still feel that responsibility to at least try and do right by the people you love. And even though you may not care for it, you still, even without seeing why, try and get some semblance of structure into your life.” “I don’t think that’s it,” Evie admitted, rubbing her hands together nervously. “Maybe it’s because I want it. Maybe I’ve convinced myself that I don’t care about it, when I do… I… I shouldn’t let that love try and blind me into thinking I deserve their help, that would be the easy thing, just as easy as it would be to…”, Evie hesitated before answering, she wanted to make them happy. “…to believe anything you’re telling about me. I… I can’t keep lying or deceiving them, not them. And going to work, thinking that I could be normal… I’m just lying to them again, I should be able to explain this, but...” how could she without making things worse? “You are normal, Evie. Everything you’re feeling is normal and is nothing to be ashamed of. Even if you tried to explain, I doubt you’d be able to explain all of it. Those are your inner demons, no one can ever properly explain them to anyone,” Nadia reassured her. “You’re jumping ahead to conclusions that seem determined to make it look like you did something wrong. You can no longer believe you can do anything right. Why do you think that’s the case? That other people would think badly of you? Have they said anything about you? Have they said anything that suggested they blame you for Josh, or hold the fact that you were having trouble at work against you- and when I mean ‘they’, I mean people who care about you and aren’t trying to hurt you.” “No, but… I can’t believe that. Otherwise there wouldn’t be all this…. this, going on with me. They’re good people and they won’t hold a thing against me, at least not openly, and it makes me feel more guilty and know more that I don’t deserve them. How could they not think badly of me?” “But what if they don’t?” “Then they should… They should not waste their time with something that can’t be fixed, and Zac- he thinks he can help me… he… he is one of the smartest people I know, but if he can’t see clearly here. He’s wrong, but he doesn’t see it, otherwise… why else would he reach out to you?” “He did so because he was scared for you, that you needed help that he couldn’t give you. Zac knows when and when not to step away from a situation, which is not as easy as most people would believe- but what doesn’t change is how much you mean to him.” “I should have convinced him, I should have been more honest, they don’t know the full story… what’s going on with me is not as severe as what they’re going through…” Evie felt her vision swirling, suddenly getting blurry. She tried to focus on Nadia’s face again and she felt her left hand grasp the couch arm hard, as if trying to anchor herself. She took a deep breath and continued, even though she felt her resolve breaking. “This is just…stupid of me to still be thinking about Josh… after everything… it’s just me overreacting to relationship woes.” She could see a glimpse of Nadia shaking her head, her easy demeaner disappearing as she leaned forward, looking closer at Evie with a hard glance. “But it’s more than that, though Evie. You think that you no longer deserve anyone’s help, and that what you did, or what you think you did, is more important than what’s going on with you. You no longer believe that anything that happens to you is unimportant. This level of self-hatred and losing interest in things that matter to you… that’s coming from something deeper than just being upset about a broken relationship.” Evie looked away, wrapping her arms around herself, the whole world around her turning a lot greyer. She knew it was more than just Josh that made her like that, Nadia was right. It was just so hard to say it. No matter how wrong it was, she just couldn’t say it… “Losing Josh that way was going to affect you, in a way you never expected. And that’s not it. You’ve been through an incredibly traumatic experience, you lost people you loved… it doesn’t have to be physical to be severe to be experiencing after-affects from what happened on the 5th of May.” Nadia told her. It was as if a black cloud appeared from nowhere and clouded her vision in red and brown at those words, those words hitting straight at the jugular, because Evie knew what that date meant, Nadia knew what that date meant, and her body froze over. Ever nerve was on edge, ever hair was almost standing. The tension was so thick with those words, those words that meant the worst day… Sharp, small inhales were escaping from her nose as Evie shook her head, looking desperately for anything in the room to look at other than Nadia. “I… they… they shouldn’t have…it was awful…” It was more than awful- it was hell. “It’s difficult to talk about your grief, let alone the people you care about. Actually, especially with the people you care about- but I promise you, they’re just sharing your grief too.” Evie felt herself shake her head, because—she was about to think it didn’t matter, but it was about Oscar and Hannah, so of course they mattered, she should be honouring them, she should be remembering them, everyday- But then the memory of Oscar’s body, crushed and bloody in front of her, replaced Nadia in her sight and Evie couldn’t think of that anymore. Because he was dead, gone forever. The memories: all fading, all bleached from their meaning, soured by the brutality of his death. She opened her mouth but nothing came out, nothing that could sound right or wrong or anything. “Evie, this stuff cannot be shook off- not by anyone else, and not by you. You wanted to be honest, want to make things right for other people, then you need to address the fact that what happened that day, is still affecting you.” “I…. I just don’t know how… they meant… so much…I can’t…” Evie’s words were coming out so slow, she wouldn’t be surprised to find out if she was slurring them. “…think about how it affected me…” “But it did, Evie. You were so focused on being there for those you still had that you pushed it all down, pretending that the grief wasn’t there. That grief- grief for people who meant so much to you- was an important part of the trauma you’re experiencing and the trauma you’re not ignoring, is already taking its toll. Thinking about what you don’t deserve makes it easier for you to ignore how such something so crushing would leave after-effects on you… and therefore makes it easier for you to give in to that belief that nothing matters. had you ever considered that, properly? When I mentioned the traumatic experience before, did you not considered that day to be the experience that would be giving you after effects?” Evie didn’t say anything, instead remained focused on her knees, which prompted Nadia to continue. “You weren’t just someone who had to hear they lost someone- you were a witness to an incident that caused injury and death to other people, almost to you.” “But nothing happened to me,” Evie insisted, less than sure if that was true or not. Yeah, physically she was fine, but mentally… “That isn’t true Evie,” Nadia countered. “You don’t have to tell me anything for me to know that. Losing too many people you cared about through horrific ways, that would create a toll on any human mind. Nightmares, moments of extreme anxiety and hopelessness… has that happened to you?” Evie wanted to say yes, but she couldn’t say that. She was honestly frightened at how accurate Nadia was, even if she didn’t know if she was right now. “What difference does it make, I caused-” “Forget about responsibility, that’s not the important thing here. Do you think that is what is happening to you? The fear of letting your loved ones down, the anger, the feelings that everything you are will collapse?” “It’s my responsibility-” “Evie, please. You don’t have to answer all my questions, you can answer them or don’t answer them, but you can’t do both at the same time. It’s hard, it’s unfair to you, but is it what is happening to you?” Evie felt her entire tongue was tied up in knots that were impossible to break through, her back was on fire as she leaned forward, unable to lean back into the couch’s support and her fingers were twisted against each other because, because she, because she… …never thought about it that way. It made sense, even she couldn’t deny that, she knew she was there, she relived it everyday. Every horrific moment in her mind, in her dreams. She has heard of people who experienced live-threatening moments would suffer from the traumatic effects even long after those events happened. Would that explain why every loud noise made her want to crouch into a corner, want the need to hide as if to protect herself? Why she was plagued by horrible nightmares? Because it could have happened to- So what if it did. That doesn’t mean sh#%. All it does is make you more guilty because it still should have been you, even more so because you were there, but it wasn’t. Oscar paid the price for your stupidity, you didn’t do enough to protect him, stupid, failure, weak… “Didn’t do enough…” Evie murmured, her voice barely above a raspy whisper. “Evie?” “I didn’t do enough… I couldn’t stop it, they were there and I… should have… saved them…” “Evie, I’m sorry but I can’t hear you. Could you please speak up for me? I know this is painful, but I want to help you understand this, to heal from this.” Evie felt her entire body ready to crumple at those words, and felt the walls she constructed crumbling, cracks appearing on all sides to start falling down and she felt she should just let it all out, expose it all, for better or worse- Oh boo-freaking-hoo, go on, tell Nadia. Tell her what you did, how vile you are. Maybe she’ll go easy on you and just give you some pills to help cope. You know, like those pills you condemned Josh for, so easily. It shouldn’t matter, it shouldn’t, it would only be better it Evie was honest, but all she could do was look up and say. “I don’t want to heal from this, I don’t want that help.” Nadia didn’t answer straight away, looking at Evie closely in that way she does, that look that told Evie she was trying to look deep inside her, before saying “Why then, Evie? Why else would you be here today, talking about this? Why continue going to work apart from a sense of responsibility to the people you care about? I know you believe you don’t deserve it, but that doesn’t mean you don’t want it as well.” “Then that’s me being arrogant, cowardly, thinking that just because I want it-” Evie suggested, thinking it as the truth. She hated doing this, she talked more than enough about herself. “It isn’t cowardly, it’s a lot more than that, Evie.” “It doesn’t matter… I don’t deserve to heal, to move on. Not with Oscar…not with Oscar…” there it was again, the goddamn cowardly part of her that can’t even finish that sentence. “Evie… when you said you think you’re a magnet for bad people, how everyone around you suffered- did you start thinking that after that date? Do you believe what happened to Oscar and Hannah-” “I don’t believe it, I know it.” “You can’t know that, it isn't what happened. Evie… talk to me, please don’t shut me out. Tell me why you think so, explain it to me so I can help you…” Evie can’t let that happen, she can’t let herself make this better, this wasn’t okay, this wasn’t about making her feel better. So what if it was the depression, it didn’t make anything better for Oscar and Hannah. Nadia can't know that, she can't know that it wasn't her fault... “I think our time’s up.” Nadia stood up with as she did, looking at her with deep concern. “Evie, please talk to me, you can get past this grief. It's over-shadowing everything, but it doesn't have to be this way." Evie sighed as she looked up at the ceiling. "Yes it does." "Tell me what I can do." It was too late for that, because Evie felt her mind going blank and as she looked back at Nadia and said in a cold tone of finality: “Nothing…nothing.” So, what do you guys think?
  15. I actually have read it, back in 2018 before I joined the forum and I loved it. I agree, 2016 was a really depressing time for the show, and you had a great take on what should have happened. I really enjoyed most of the stories for the characters (such as how you wrote Evie and Matt's relationship), and I loved the return of old characters such as Dex and Frank Morgan. I'll admit, my approach towards Zac's mixed loyalties when it came to Hunter was sort of influenced on your interpretation on what would have happened if Zac knew what Hunter did (because I was at a lost with how to write it and I wanted to see other people's views on it), so I must thank you for that. And thanks for your encouragement and patience. I'm still dedicated to finishing this story on a hopeful high note, especially now that the story at's this stage.
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